Ofcom approves satellite broadband for UK transport

News James Peckham 13:01, 21 Jan 2014

The watchdog has approved plans to allow access to broadband speeds of 10Mbps on vehicles

Ever riding on the train and hate how unreliable the mobile internet can be? It’s the same with planes, coaches and boats, but soon you could be tapping into high speed internet whilst travelling. Ofcom has today approved plans for satellite broadband antennas on vehicles.

The plans were put forward last August and the decision could bring with it broadband 10 times faster than commuters currently experience. Currently, to connect to the internet it’s a case of using a mobile network or a dongle which can both be pretty unreliable, especially in the countryside.

This new technology works by installing an antenna on the vehicle which communicates with a geostationary satellite. Then the satellite throws the signal back down to the antenna which should be able to find it wherever it is in the country.

The technology has been around for a while but recent advances have improved the effectiveness of the antennas on earth. These new antennas are capable of maintaining very stable pointing accuracy meaning the antenna can track the satellite even at high speed.

Philip Marnick, Group Director of Spectrum at Ofcom, said: “We want travellers to benefit from superfast broadband on the move at the kind of speeds they expect from their connection at home.

“Today’s decision means that operators of trains, boats and planes will soon be able to begin the process of making these valuable services available to their passengers.”

When can we expect to see this technology? It’s a little way off yet but Ofcom is hoping to accept applications for licenses on the “ship-mounted earth stations” by next month. It is also working with the Civil Aviation Authority to work on licensing for aircraft-mounted devices as soon as possible.

Ofcom needs to license these technologies as it will cross into other countries but other modes of transport such as trains and coaches which stay in the UK won’t need to be licensed.

Ofcom believes the first commercial opportunities for the technology will begin later in 2014.

Saying goodbye to temperamental dongles and mobile network internet will be easy. If this technology works as Ofcom claims it does it’ll prove very popular with commuters. If the antennas begin to be installed on trains and coaches though, it’s sure to mean a price hike in travel fares will also be over the horizon.

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