Isotropic Systems has joined the consortium led by CGI, which has been selected by the U.K. Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the U.K. Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA), to develop a demonstration of a hybrid satellite communications and terrestrial network for use on trains. 

The project is part of a joint initiative in the U.K. to demonstrate the integrated use of 5G in the area of transport and logistics. The Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways (SODOR) project will deliver pilot demonstrations of improved network connectivity for train monitoring and passenger broadband in 2022. 

Terrestrial connectivity on trains is notoriously unreliable with limited coverage along key sections of track, while satellite connectivity has been challenging due to line-of-sight problems from the train. The new antenna developed by Isotropic Systems solves this problem by offering multiple simultaneous connections to satellites in any orbit, including NGSO constellations that the likes of SpaceX, OneWeb, SES and Telesat are launching.

Together with Isotropic Systems, CGI’s consortium will work with IT partners Icomera and 5G3i, alongside Network Rail and rail operators ScotRail, Northern and LNER, to explore how hybrid networks, based on multi-bearer 5G technology, can improve network availability while offering better value for money than existing solutions. 

Improving broadband connectivity on-board trains will bring a range of benefits to train operators and passengers including:

  • Faster and more reliable Wi-Fi providing an increased ability to work on trains, and better on-board entertainment options
  • Enhanced mobile phone coverage using next-generation 5G technology, ensuring completely connected journeys including in stations, tunnels and cuttings
  • Accurate real-time information on train location and carriage capacity
  • A greater number of trains in service by predicting maintenance requirements in real-time.

Commenting on the launch of the project, John Finney, Isotropic Systems’ CEO, said, “We are excited to be part of a project that will significantly increase the attractiveness of rail travel compared to other modes. Isotropic Systems’ next-generation terminal will greatly improve the on-board experience for passengers and provide vital operational and safety improvements for operators. Our collaboration with ScotRail, Northern and LNER means that passengers across the U.K. will see the benefit. Whether they are working from the carriage instead of the office or taking advantage of improved entertainment options; we hope this initiative will help facilitate a new era of mass rail transit.”

Robert Gardner, senior innovation engineer, Telecoms, at Network Rail said, “Over the coming decade, new-age satellite communications have the potential to transform how we provide data connectivity to railway vehicles, particularly in rural and remote regions. Through our involvement in Project SODOR, we aim to learn more about how modern satcoms can supplement terrestrial wireless communications, and explore the potential value and benefits to passengers and the operational railway system."

Mike Rudd, head of Telecommunications, U.K. Space Agency, said, “Satellites play a vital role in keeping people connected, but they can also help keep us safe by providing reliable communications links between trains, drivers and operators. This new project is a great example of the National Space Strategy in action, drawing on CGI’s expertise in satellite communications and working closely with our partners in the ESA to demonstrate how this technology could help supercharge mobile connectivity across the national rail network.”

 U.K. Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure Julia Lopez said, "We want to end the frustration of cut-short calls and internet black-outs on trains and bring our network into the fast lane. We're delighted to select CGI to test how satellites and 5G can put an end to patchy mobile coverage while helping train operators monitor the safety and performance of their services with greater precision. This is just one of a long list of projects we are backing to boost our economy and improve people's lives with modern technology."