Ofcom Authorises Faster Satellite Wi-Fi For Ships, Planes And Trains

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Ofcom expects to issue first licenses for earth stations in February

Air and sea passengers in the UK could soon benefit from faster satellite-based Internet on board following Ofcom’s decision to authorise the use of earth stations on boats, planes and other vehicles.

Earth stations are devices mounted on moving vehicles that provide connectivity to passengers using a geostationary satellite, which orbit the earth’s equator at an altitude of 22,300 miles, meaning their location is fixed with regards to the planet’s surface.

Ofcom first announced the proposals in August and claims that recent advances in earth station technology, such as more accurate antennas, make for a more reliable connection.  Ofcom says speeds could be expected to reach 50Mbps for a single earth station, or more than 10Mbps for each passenger.

Earth station technology

High Speed Train

Ofcom says it is making a relatively large amount of high frequency spectrum, located between the 17.3 and 27.8GHz bands, available to support the use of earth stations and expects to award the first licenses this year.

It says it will accept applications for ship-mounted earth station licences in February 2014 and is working with the Civil Aviation Authority to make licensing available for planes by then as well.

Earth stations are also being touted as a way to improve connectivity on trains and coaches, and regulations allowing land-based vehicles to use the technology without a licence are expected to come into force this summer.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Concur, a provider of integrated and travel expense services, argued in favour of the move as part of Ofcom’s consultation and wants travel companies to provide Wi-Fi services following the decision.

“We’re delighted that Ofcom has licensed super-fast broadband on the UK’s planes and trains,” says Isabel Montesdeoca, Managing Director at Concur in the UK. “Travelling on business can be a hugely rewarding experience, but it also comes with its unique challenges. Today’s news promises to make the lives of regular business travellers easier as well as more comfortable, enjoyable and productive.

“However, we urge travel companies to offer access to super-fast Wi-Fi as standard, not as an additional charge. Why? Because access to internet services isn’t a luxury on the road.  It’s the difference between missing a flight and boarding, between a successful meeting and getting lost on the way there, between following up on a lead and seeing the email too late. It’s as essential to the traveller as running water or electricity is to the consumer.”

Wi-Fi is already provided by a number of UK train operators, however connection is not always free and speeds can be sluggish. Virgin Media operates a Wi-Fi network in the London Underground, while mobile coverage is about to be extended to the Channel Tunnel.

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