An early adopter proving that onboard Wi-Fi is a ‘win-win situation’ for both the operator and the passenger.

Nearly two decades of innovation, offering more to passengers and making the case for investing in connectivity.

The Challenge

  • Add extra value to drive passenger numbers
  • Need for reliable, consistent service
  • Capacity for further applications

By introducing a Wi-Fi service on its trains, SJ’s overall goal was to increase passenger volumes and the frequency of their journeys, specifically targeting business travellers on SJ’s key routes. The major competition on these routes came from cars, and to a lesser extent, domestic flights. SJ planned to gain a competitive advantage by maximising passengers’ “productive time” in a way that car travel could not.

SJ is a state-owned rail operator in Sweden, carrying 150,000 passengers every day on routes that penetrate deep into the rural countryside and mountainous regions. Icomera first deployed their solution on board seven SJ vehicles in 2003, and the relationship has expanded over the years to reach 334 SJ trains today.

While cellular data network coverage is good in urban and suburban areas, it becomes challenging to provide an Internet connection to a train where cellular coverage is sparse or non-existent. A successful connectivity solution has to be able to provide strong, continuous service throughout any journey.

The Solution

  • Works in a changeable environment
  • Offers competitive edge
  • Easily upgradable

Icomera approached SJ with a solution based on its patented technology to support onboard Internet and allow passengers to communicate and work as they travelled. Icomera could also deliver a high quality of service and excellent user experience, all whilst ensuring easy integration with SJ’s rolling stock and IT infrastructure.

The original solution was built around a sophisticated multi-radio cellular router and Wi-Fi controller, with 8 modems enabling GPRS. It was designed specifically for complex rail installations, supporting optimum service availability and performance across the X2000 train routes. By 2013, the routers had been updated to LTE technology, powered by Icomera’s X-series. With this new set-up, SJ now had greater flexibility to develop their offering over time to meet changing business requirements. The Icomera solution is able to easily (and often remotely) accommodate upgrades, keeping SJ ahead of the curve. From the start, SJ’s fleet management also benefitted from the hardware’s built-in GPS. This, combined with backend services, meant SJ could implement remote real-time train position mapping and monitoring.

It is also possible to use different technologies to connect the train as it travels. The system is able to make intelligent decisions to switch seamlessly between networks, depending on which offers the strongest signal, thus maintaining a constant connection at the best possible speeds. In this way, the passenger experiences optimal Internet connectivity while other operational applications (train crew communications, GPS positioning and on-board system monitoring) are also reliably supported.

In 2020, SJ became the first rail operator to trial the 5G-enabled Icomera X5 router. The onboard 5G technology trial saw an X5 router, housing four 5G radio modem, being installed on an SJ X2000 train travelling on its usual Gothenburg – Stockholm route. The results of the trial showed delivery of over 1 Gbps of net throughput (data speed) to the train as it passed through telecommunications operator Tele2’s 5G cellular network in Stockholm’s central station, as well as other telecommunications operators’ LTE (4G) networks.

The Results

  • Significant attraction of passengers away from car and air travel
  • 14 million users in the last year
  • Record breaking 5G performance

When first launched, Wi-Fi was not offered free to all passengers, as SJ chose to use it to drive First/Business Class and Loyalty Member upsells. During this period, it found that 25% of the Internet users in First Class had chosen to travel on SJ trains because of the ability to work while travelling.

Having seen the success and popularity of the service, SJ chose to make the onboard Wi-Fi free and for all passengers in November 2013. Today SJ offers unlimited Internet connectivity at uncapped speeds on board its high-speed and double-decker trains.

Figures for 2019 show that the Wi-Fi service was used by 15 million devices, compared to half a million in 2013, transferring 2,682 TB of data. Despite this radical increase in uptake, performance is still exemplary.

SJ carries 31.8 million passengers per year. With 15 million connected users per year uptake is perhaps as high as 47% of passenger journeys.

The average session length is 1 hour 37 minutes, demonstrating that passengers are using the Wi-Fi for considerable periods of time, and able to reap the benefits of the service.

Following the successful 5G technology trials, the future looks bright for SJ. The new Icomera system is ready to use the 5G networks offered by all cellular operators along the train route, as they roll out.

The backwards-compatible 5G modems also yield gigabit speeds when using only 4G LTE networks, thanks to ‘LTE CAT 20’ technology, which allows for faster data transfer by aggregating up to seven ‘frequency carriers’ at once. This indicates that transport operators upgrading to 5G-enabled technology ahead of the full 5G rollout should expect to see substantial increases in the throughput from existing networks, while establishing a future-proof means of delivering high-speed gigabit onboard Internet.

What SJ Say:

“SJ is pleased to continue developing our longstanding, pioneering partnership with Icomera. SJ has always pushed the boundaries to reach the highest possible connection speed on the combined cellular networks. The 2020 5G technology trial shows exciting new possibilities, and we are keen to implement new technologies.”

Göran Linné
SJ

What We Say:

“Our work with SJ is a long-standing partnership; we provide them with a solution that will satisfy all their immediate needs, and then go the extra step to keep them ahead of the curve, competitive and continuing to benefit.

“SJ was one of the earliest adopters of onboard Wi-Fi, and it has paid off for them many times over. What’s more, they have proven that mobile Internet is something that benefits both the operator and the passenger: a win-win situation.

“With our 5G trials, Icomera is excited to demonstrate the technologies that will be used to deliver the true ‘Gigabit Train’. This presents an early look at the throughput achievable when using 5G-enabled hardware and cellular network aggregation technology, even before 5G is fully rolled out.”

Mats Karlsson, CTO & SVP Innovation
Icomera