In the dying days of its franchise to operate trains on the UK’s West Coast Mainline, Virgin Trains has announced that it is trialling on-board 5G Wi-Fi services.

Virgin has been working with McLaren Applied and Vodafone to test the train to shore super-fast broadband.

According to a combined statement from the companies involved, issued this morning, the technology has been trialled last month on services between London Euston and Birmingham New Street, and London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly.

The trial participants are adamant that tests will continue after the switch-over date of 8 December, when Avanti West Coast becomes the new operator on the West Coast Mainline.

According to John Sullivan, Virgin Trains’ CIO: “We may be coming to the end of our time running the West Coast Mainline but Virgin Trains is excited to be playing an important part in the early stages of this 5G project, which is another example of how we have led the way in digital innovation within the rail industry.”

For his part, Paul Bebbington, Director of Public Transport, McLaren Applied, called the move: “A step change in faster and more reliable Wi-Fi with the advent of 5G. Connecting fast-moving fleets in harsh signal environments is a key part of our Edge, Telemetry and Control strategy, coupled with our capabilities and long term vision around electrification and Virtual Product Design.”

Vodafone UK’s Chief Technology Officer Scott Petty said: “We believe 5G provides a huge opportunity for train operators to improve experiences for their customers, both those travelling for work and pleasure. Such trials are an important first step in achieving this.”

Avanti is, of course, backed by FirstGroup’s First Rail Holdings Ltd (70%) and Italian state operator Trenitalia SpA (30%). FirstGroup has been holding 5G on train trials of its own since earlier in the year with Blu Wireless on Southern Western Trains, with Icomera supplying the on-board Wi-Fi equipment and services. Blu Wireless’s system is based on mmWave technology and is reportedly capable of processing volumes of data up to 100 times greater than currently possible with 4G, the technology is reportedly being rolled out across the South Western Railway franchise.

At the time, and at BWCS’ Wi-Fi on Trains Conference in June, FirstGroup said it will be the exclusive supplier of Blu Wireless’s new 5G rail system for customers and railway infrastructure providers, and it will also work with Network Rail to harness 5G to improve railway infrastructure.

On-train Wi-Fi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger Wi-Fi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’s Wi-Fi on Trains Conference next June. For information on speaking and sponsorship opportunities at the 2020 event, please fill out the enquiry form on this page.

The 2020 conference is sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh and RADWIN.