Industry infighting means mobile users face long delays on UK trains

When it comes to coverage on the rail network, we're all in second class

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Stopping service

Yet that’s not what happens. For all the networks telling customers they have the highest speed access all the time, once a customer starts hitting the data usage heavily, that SIM gets throttled. It’s something The Register experienced when we did our London Monopoly Board pub crawl test with GWS.

When this happens to a small committee of Vultures it’s a pain; when it’s for a regular service with thousands of users it starts to become business critical.

Icomera, however, tries to work around the limitations imposed by the networks. It puts antennas on the roof of trains. This means conforming to tight regulations. Icomera's Thomas Roberts told El Reg that working to the envelope was tough, because when the Victorians built most of the railway tunnels they didn’t anticipate the need for 4G radio antennas, and most trains are built to make maximum use of the available space. “It’s not as bad as France, where they are running double-height trains through tunnels built for single-height ones,” he admitted.

The system uses six antennas to aggregate channels from six different mobile networks. This mixes 3G and 4G, and sees speeds of up to 100Mb per sec. It intelligently uses all available spectrums – including 2G, 3G, 4G LTE and satellite – to provide travellers with the most reliable internet connection possible. The aim is to move up to a twelve-antenna solution. Icomera's technology is being used by ScotRail in the UK and mobile network Iliad in France.

The bonded lines present a single IP address to the outside world and the Teclo Networks server hides the flakiness of a mobile connection from external networks. So if a train runs through a tunnel while you are reading El Reg, Teclo will keep pinging us so that we don’t give up retrying because you are not listening - so when you emerge into the sunlight your connection will resume at full speed.

Although 100Mb per sec between 200 users might sound a bit limiting, it’s plenty if only a few are streaming or video-calling. It’s enough to handle 1,000 high-quality VoIP calls. The bonding and the single IP address is VPN friendly, so if the customer is using a VPN or IP security, the address doesn’t change regardless of which mobile network is sitting in the middle - or if the train crosses international boundaries. Icomera operates in a number of countries, including Sweden, but trains crossing into Denmark retain Swedish IP addresses.

It is a reassuring thing to learn that Icomera says it's never been asked to provide first class passengers with more bandwidth or a better quality of service than those people rattling along in the cheap seats. ®

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