The relationship between Icomera and Deutsche Bahn (DB) is one of trust which has built over several years.
Deutsche Bahn trains were first equipped with Icomera Passenger Wi-Fi in 2016, and new trains are installed with Icomera equipment every week. Up to 500,000 passengers connect to Icomera Wi-Fi daily across Germany.
About Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn operates trains across Germany and beyond: a network of more than 33,000 kilometres of track. Train services are run by two entities: DB Fernverkehr which owns and runs the long distance Intercity Express (ICE) and Intercity (IC) trains, and DB Regio which operates the Interregio-Express (IRE), Regional-Express (RE), Regional bahn (RB), and S-Bahn city services. There were about 151 million long-distance passenger journeys in 2019, with about 2 billion regional and local transport passenger journeys¹.
Train travel is greatly increasing in popularity in Germany as part of a greater movement towards greener forms of travel, with a 4% increase in long-distance travel year-on-year². As a consequence, Deutsche Bahn is hiring more staff, commissioning new trains with comfortable seats, and increasing capacity. Keeping passengers entertained on long distance journeys is therefore a priority, making Passenger Wi-Fi and entertainment services essential.
The Need for Wi-Fi
Icomera was first approached by Deutsche Bahn in 2016 to provide reliable mobile Internet connectivity for their fleet of high-speed Intercity Express (ICE) trains. With increasing numbers of passengers, and also rapidly increasing expectations for on-the-go connectivity, Deutsche Bahn sought a best-in-class solution from a supplier with a proven track record. The German government had mandated that Passenger Wi-Fi should be available to those travelling Second as well as First Class on ICE trains by the end of 2016. In addition, Deutsche Bahn required a stable Internet connection for other digital services on the train, such as ticket machines and galley services – and a solution which provided connectivity to both staff and passengers would therefore be ideal.
Deutsche Bahn sought a best-in-class solution from a supplier with a proven track record…
Since Deutsche Bahn runs such a broad range of services (differentiated by vehicle type, speed, distance and journey time), Icomera has deployed customised solutions which meet the requirements of each type of operation. A selection of these solutions will be identified in this case study.
The first long-distance Intercity-Express ICE 1, ICE 2 and ICE 3 trains were installed with the Icomera X6i router in July 2016: 258 trains in total. The new ICE 4 trains, designed around the needs of modern-day travellers with more seats, children’s play areas, and quiet zones are also currently being equipped with Icomera solutions just after delivery, taking the total number of Icomera-equipped ICE trains up to 375 trains once installation is complete. Free Passenger Wi-Fi is available in both First and Second Class carriages. A single Icomera X6i router is installed per train consist, with Access Points bringing the connectivity to passengers in other carriages.
Icomera is retrofitting the classic Intercity IC 1 and modern bi-level IC 2 trains. In this solution the Icomera X³ (Rail) router provides the connectivity. This product is ideally suited for situations where creation of an onboard network infrastructure (Ethernet backbone, Access Points) would be impossible or challenging – this work can be very invasive and requires significant rewiring.
In the case of the IC 1, the individual carriages are frequently reorganised, meaning any reshuffle would run the risk of the carriage containing the router being removed from the train consist. The IC 1 trains have been installed with one X³ (Rail) and Wi-Fi antenna per carriage: a very simple installation. The IC 2 bi-level trains have two Wi-Fi antennas (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) located per floor, with an Access Point to meet bandwidth requirements for the increased passenger volume. A total of 1,348 carriages will be installed with Icomera Wi-Fi. The retrofits to the IC 1 and IC 2 fleets are being undertaken via three depots simultaneously during regular train maintenance works, ensuring efficient and speedy project delivery with minimal service disruption.
The ICE Portal is accessed via the on board Wi-Fi on all Fernverkehr trains, providing journey information and free entertainment. Deutsche Bahn also uses the reliable Internet connectivity for their staff network, which is used for ticketing and credit card purchases.
Icomera connectivity solutions are also deployed on around 200 DB Regio trains. The DB Regio fleet conducts many types of train journeys: fast trains which link regions, slow trains which stop at every station, and the S-Bahn trains which provide rapid transport in cities and surrounding areas. The following are two examples of successful deployments with a customised solution to meet client requirements:
Main-Neckar-Ried Express: Trains for Tech
Free Icomera Wi-Fi has been provided on the DB Regio Mitte Main-Neckar-Ried-Express (MNR) trains. These bi-level trains operate between Frankfurt and Mannheim, Darmstadt, Heidelberg and Wiesloch-Walldorf. Reliable Passenger Wi-Fi is considered to be an essential service in the IT Cluster Rhine-Main-Neckar – also known as the German Silicon Valley, renowned for its software development, biopharmaceutical, fintech, finance, and consulting clusters. One Icomera X6i router per bi-level Bombardier TWINDEXX Vario train was deployed due to the requirement to regularly reshuffle configurations. Most trains are composed of 3 to 6 carriages, but they are managed as independent units, removing the need for Ethernet backbone and extensive cabling.
Süwex: Trains for Commuters and Tourists
The Southwestern (Süwex) regional express trains which run every hour between Koblenz, Trier, Saarbrücken, Mannheim and Frankfurt are also equipped with Icomera Wi-Fi. Since these Stadler Flirt 160 trains usually operate as fixed consists, it was appropriate to deploy one Icomera X6i router per train consist, with three Access Points providing connectivity to the other carriages. Icomera also built and supplies an Entertainment portal which gives passengers access to the onboard Wi-Fi. Alongside useful travel information, the portal supplies news, sport, weather and documentary content, information about potential tourist trips, and facts about the stops on the route. Since these trains serve both tourists and commuters, this information is of particular interest to this passenger group.
An ‘Always-on’ Connection
Deploying a consistent and high-performance Internet connection to trains is highly dependent on the available cellular signal in the transport network. In Germany, there are many “not spots” due to the rural nature of much of the country. Furthermore, providing a stable signal to trains moving at up to 200 km/hour (IC 1 trains) and 300 km/hour (ICE 3 trains) brings its own challenges. To mitigate this, the Icomera router connects to the signal of all three of Germany’s mobile network operators (MNOs) and combines the capacity using Icomera’s patented cellular aggregation technology, SureWAN™. This ensures that, independent of the SIM card in the passenger’s phone, the passenger connected to Icomera Wi-Fi can use the signal of all available cellular masts in the vicinity of the train. Tests conducted by Deutsche Bahn after the initial roll-out showed that significantly greater bandwidth was available. This allowed DB to open up the Wi-Fi for free to passengers travelling in Second Class.
A Strategic Partner
Icomera solutions are now deployed on a significant number of DB Fernverkehr and DB Regio vehicles. These units are monitored using Icomera’s back-office management system – the Icomera Management Suite – which allows Deutsche Bahn to manage their Passenger Wi-Fi solution themselves, with Icomera support as required. As a sign of their confidence in a long-term relationship with Icomera, Deutsche Bahn appointed Icomera as their Strategic Partner for Passenger Wi-Fi and for digital services in 2019.