Ofcom approves superfast broadband on UK transport

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Proposal passed to enable passengers planes, trains and boats to access broadband speeds of more than 10Mbps by the end of the year

Ofcom has passed a proposal to allow passengers traveling on boats, planes and trains to have access to superfast broadband speeds when travelling in the UK. The first commercial deployments are likely to begin later this year.

The regulator said the decision means transport operators could use satellite-based technology to offer broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than they currently experience. These could be expected to reach around 50Mbps to a single earth station, or more than 10Mbps to an individual passenger.

Earth stations are devices mounted to moving vehicles to provide internet to passengers by connecting to a ‘geostationary’ satellite. These satellites orbit the earth’s equator at an altitude of 22,300 miles, which means its position is fixed with respect to the earth’s surface.

Passengers currently access the internet on vehicles using smartphones, dongles or through Wi-Fi on trains. Ofcom said in remote areas however, particularly on planes and ships, speeds have been limited by the technology so far available.

Ofcom is making high-frequency spectrum available for their use. It is making 4.128MHz worth of spectrum available in the following bands: 17.3GHz-20.2GHz, 27.5-27.8185GHz, 28.4545-28.8265GHz and 29.4625-30GHz

Devices that are mounted on land-based vehicles, such as trains, will be made exempt from the need for a spectrum licence but earth stations mounted on aircraft or ships will need to be licensed by Ofcom, as these vehicles are capable of crossing into other countries’ jurisdictions.

Ofcom said it expects to be able to accept applications to licence ship-mounted earth stations by next month, and is working with the Civil Aviation Authority to make licensing for aircraft-mounted devices available in a similar timeframe. Regulations covering the exemption from licensing for land-based earth stations are expected to be in force by this summer.

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