Engineers believe new tech will stop internet connection problems on trains

University researchers believe they have developed new technology to help stop passengers losing internet connections on trains.

Academics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have designed a flat panel antenna which connects to satellites in space to maintain connectivity while on the move.

The university said the prototype is expected to enter field trials before the end of this year with a major rail operator.

Research engineer Samuel Rotenberg, who helped design the antenna, said: “Poor connectivity on journeys is one of the leading frustrations of passengers globally.

“Today’s users are used to fibre-optic superfast broadband, with 4G connectivity seen as the minimum standard. Yet, on the move, our connectivity is patchy and continually interrupted.

“Cities provide continuous connectivity using a large network of antennas. However, there are fewer placed in rural areas, especially along railway tracks, which results in the signal being lost.

“However, extending the ground network to improve access in rural area is expensive and unreliable for transportation.”

“Antennas for satellite communication are, in the main, large, heavy, bulky and dish shaped so aren’t aerodynamic and are impractical for high-speed trains to carry.

“Our research has developed a flat panel antenna which will communicate with satellites throughout a journey, without loss of connectivity. It’s fairly lightweight, at a fraction of the cost of existing solutions and will provide global coverage.

“Its design specifications mean it could also be adapted for the Internet of Things, and planes as they fly in the middle of the ocean.”

He said using satellites means connectivity is “seamless” for all passengers, regardless of the number trying to connect.

Project funders include the European Space Agency, Department for Transport and Scottish Enterprise.