Thalys has launched Internet service on high-speed train routes between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne: The service hit glitches in its big press rollout, but glitches shouldn't be mistaken for actual performance. The satellite-backed service pulls down 2 Mbps of ruinously expensive backhaul, compressed to provide speeds that feel like 4 Mbps. (Read: faster for email, TIFF images, certain PowerPoint presentations, and Web pages with gzip disabled; normal rate for JPEGs, GIFs, compressed Web pages, and PDFs.)
The service will cost first-class passengers not a thing, but coach will pay €6.50 (US$10) per hour or €13 (US$20) for an entire trip. The train operator is initially equipping 7 trains, but will complete work on all 26 trains by October. Trip durations run from 1 hour 20 minutes to 3 hours.
Most impressively, the consortium that built the system is using a pretty modest antenna that moves automatically to stay in contact with the satellite. It's 80 by 72 cm (31.5 by 28.3 inches), and plans are to shrink that to something 2/3rds the height when a new dish is certified. Ultimately, IDG News Service reports, the group plans to use 3 cm (1 in) high phased-array antennas that would cover the train's roof. Very, very clever, as it jettisons any moving parts.
Three companies worked on the technology: Telenet, handling the billing and authentication, is a Belgian ISP that also runs hotspots; Nokia Siemens is a well-known systems integrator, and is providing some gear and handling installation and integration; 21Net, perhaps the least-well known partner, has the satellite technology.
This project dates back to at least 25-April-2005, a point at which 21Net and Nokia Siemens announced a successful test on the Thalys run from Brussels to Paris.