The project started on 1st March 2004 with the Baseline Design Review one month later.
Initially two sessions of pre-testing the 21Net service were carried out on a Renfe high speed train in Spain. These were carried out over two separate three day periods in June and July 2004. The pre-testing was witnessed both by ESA and by representatives of various high speed train operating companies.
The 21Net hardware was installed on the Renfe Control Coach, a test laboratory carriage that can be included within a conventional high speed (300km/hour) train set, and comprised:
- The On Roof Antenna System,
- The Antenna Controller,
- The Satellite Modem,
- The Wi-Fi in-train distribution system,
The service was managed remotely by the back-office system located in northern Europe.
The satellite link with the train was maintained at 4MBit/s downlink and 2MBit/s uplink, with 10 users stressing the system to the maximum extent possible via Wi-Fi enabled laptops (downloading large files, streaming videos, etc). More formal testing and data logging was also carried out.
The general user perception was that we had indeed achieved the desired "business class" level of Wi-Fi service, albeit with a number of issues which have since been resolved.
We believe that 21Net/Renfe's pilot trials represented:
- The World's first demonstration of true high speed internet access from a high speed train,
- The World's first demonstration of bi-directional Ku-band satellite communication to and from a train.
After extensive development and testing to railway industry safety standards, proper trials on a Thalys train operating on the line between Brussels and Paris started on 19th April with a major press trip organised by Thalys for rail journalists on the Wi-Fi train that day. ESA and ESA PR were also in attendance, and the press trip was a great success.
This was followed by an 8-month pilot trial, initially providing free of charge access for all users and then subsequently chargeable access at two different cost levels. A dedicated www.thalys.com portal and multi-functional website was developed in four languages for our trial participants:
In parallel (outside the scope of this project) additional tests have been conducted with other operators demonstrating the high performance of 21Nets system throughout Europe, some of which are shown below: