Ofcom green lights superfast broadband use on planes, trains and ships


Airlines may soon be able to offer passengers access to superfast broadband services while travelling in the UK, thanks to a ruling by Ofcom.

The mobile regulator has given transport operators the green light to install earth stations on their vehicles to aid the delivery of superfast broadband to their passengers.

The decision comes on the back of a consultation Ofcom started in August 2013 about the pros and cons of using superfast broadband-transmitting earth stations on moving vehicles.

To make it work, the stations will be attached to the moving vehicles and provide passengers with internet access by connecting to geostationary satellites.

"Earth stations will allow much faster data speeds, as Ofcom is making available a relatively large amount of high-frequency spectrum for their use. This will provide a considerable amount of data capacity," said Ofcom in a statement.

However, only earth stations mounted on aircraft or ships that cross borders into other countries will need a spectrum licence from Ofcom, while land-based vehicles will not.

Phillip Marnick, group director of spectrum at Ofcom, said the aim of the initiative is to provide passengers with the same kind of broadband experience they get at home.

"We want travellers to benefit from superfast broadband on the move at the kind of speeds they expect from their connection at home," said Marnick.

"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."

Ofcom said it expects to be in a position to accept applications to license ship- and plane-based earth stations by next month.

Adam Kirby, telecoms expert at utilities comparison site uSwitch, said trying to use the internet on the go can be a frustrating experience for passengers, but Ofcom should be addressing shortfalls in connectivity in other areas.

"While earth stations are now improving things for broadband users on the move, too many people at home are still having to endure a woefully sluggish and patchy service," said Kirby.

"Before Ofcom gets carried away with providing superfast speeds on transport, it needs to concentrate on getting the basics right and make sure broadband in homes is vastly improved - particularly in remote rural areas that sometimes get ignored."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.