These days passengers like to be connected to the internet at all times, whether for work, checking social media or just looking things up.
The current Wi-Fi provision on trains is a valiant and very welcome effort. However, speeds are such that it's often better to use your mobile phone data instead of the on-train Wi-Fi, especially if many passengers are competing for scarce bandwidth.
After extensive testing in 2021 on the Isle of Wight (using the 83-year-old 1938 ex-tube stock) Evo Rail is now providing a real alternative with 500 megabit to 1 gigabit speeds shared between the passengers, rather than the 5-30Mb currently found on trains.
Fibre-optic cable is laid along the track and self-powered 5-metre-tall poles are set up along the railway, typically between 1 and 2 kms apart. They receive the internet connection from the fibre-optic cable, which is then broadcast to the trains, received by at least two antennas.
Although using very advanced technology, the system itself is similar to domestic internet provision: the trackside cable forms one network, which is attached at various points to the internet, the train's interior wireless equipment forms the other network and the trackside poles provide the link between the two, using the ultra short-wave mmWaves (Millimetre Waves - wavelengths between 1 and 10 mm) which can be concentrated into directional 'pencil' beams. These extremely high frequency waves require line-of-sight to work, so the poles beside the railway have to be placed accordingly. The winding nature of the Far North Line would require significantly more poles than, for example, the East Coast Main Line in England.
This system is far more reliable than the present method of obtaining the internet connection from mobile phone masts, which also require a large amount of power, whereas the Evo Rail poles have built-in solar panels, wind turbines and batteries to enable them to function where there is no electricity supply. The current on-train equipment can be used to connect to the new installation.
The provision of high-speed internet on trains has been part of UK government policy since 2017, with a planned completion date of 2025. Telecommunications in the UK are reserved to Westminster and mobile network rollout is commercially led. Worryingly for Scotland the UK Government's 5G strategy only mentions the rail network in England and Wales. The Scottish Government's 5G strategy meanwhile contains this comment: "We continue to press the UK Government to give us the powers and resources which would allow us to reap the significant benefits that we could see from enhanced 5G provision in Scotland."
It is certainly true that high-speed internet on trains will be a game-changer for many potential travellers when deciding whether to leave their cars at home.