Icomera is a Swedish hidden ice cream with millions of users. With the help of 5g, their technology will give us a better connection on board trains. Now we become gigabit travelers with Swedish technology.
With a pandemic still raging, it may not feel like it, but we will become gigabit travelers. During the 5g era, surfing speeds of 1 gigabit per second should be able to form the lower limit, whether you are at home, on the go or on board a train.
– It is not a technical problem. The technology is there. But a little political help would be needed, says Mats Karlsson, technical manager at Icomera.
Mats Karlsson refers to the situation in Sweden, where for many long years we have found that cash connection is as common as signal errors. He knows it can be different. Since Icomera started 21 years ago, it has developed into a global company, and Mats Karlsson knows that performance is better elsewhere in the world.
Icomera’s communication technology is installed in almost 6,000 train sets in England, Germany, Italy, the USA, Canada and Sweden, among others. It is mounted in tens of thousands of buses, trams and ships. In England, Icomera has seized about 85 percent of the market.
– In Germany we are on both high-speed trains and regional trains, in Italy we are on almost all high-speed trains and we are getting bigger and bigger in the USA, says Mats Karlsson.
The technology that has made Icomera so coveted is Mats Karlsson’s own invention. According to legend, he woke up one night and wrote down on a piece of paper the idea that suddenly popped into his head.
– I have that note somewhere. For a number of years around the turn of the millennium, he was looking for the right application, and finally he realized that it was particularly well suited for things moving at top speeds.
In fact, the patent on which the technology is based is named after him. It is called Mats, which stands for multichannel asynchronous transfer system. One can think of technology as its own small network located between the base stations that a train whizzes past on the way to its destination, and the passengers’ mobile devices.
Icomera’s systems can receive signals from the various operators’ mobile networks, antennas mounted along the embankment and even satellites. All these radio links are collected, aggregated and transmitted via wifi to smartphones, tablets and laptops.
The alternative for the traveler is otherwise to rely on direct contact with a base station, but with the metallic windows that Swedish trains are equipped with, the experience is frustrating at best. And even if that had not been the case, Icomera states that their method may be preferable.
– We can actually get more data than you can get if you are only directly connected, with lower packet losses and lower latency. We can balance data much better than you can do when you start refueling on the mobile network yourself, says Mats Karlsson.
In an ideal world, a large set of antennas with support for multi-user mimo sits on the train roof. Data passes via a router that distributes these to a number of access points in the train, preferably one in each carriage, for further travel to the passengers’ units. However, the brain in the system is not located on the train itself, but in a data center that is usually connected to base stations with fiber cables.
The brain of the system is Icomera’s Surewan gateway. It is the one who figured out how to load the mobile links for optimal latency and data flow.
– So we have a server at the other end that sews together the traffic. It is not entirely easy to do so. You have to dynamically direct the traffic and there is nothing you can do on signal strength or position, but it must be measured on other parameters at the millisecond level, says Mats Karlsson.
At the back of Icomera’s technology, machine learning is used to monitor the systems, to find faults and deviations or to assist with preventive maintenance. This is an important task, as Icomera’s technology, in addition to providing travelers with wifi, is also connected to the train operator’s own onboard system.
Handles gigabit speeds
These can be different types of alarms, ticket handling or infotainment. Icomera calls its latest router X5. Among other things, it is equipped with four 5g modems and one with support for cat 20-lte.
Icomera believes that the router is so potent that it can actually handle gigabit speeds only via the 4g network on the stretch between Stockholm and Gothenburg. At the end of last year, the company managed to reach 1.4 Gbit / s on the train strip in Stockholm where Tele 2’s 5g network was already in place.
So why does the connection on board Swedish trains leave so much to be desired? One misconception is that the coverage along the tracks is poor. In fact, it is more often the capacity that is not enough. This applies to both the operators’ networks and inside the train.
– In many installations, there are too few wifi access points. It will be the bottleneck on board, says Mats Karlsson.
With 5g and the latest wifi technology, the capacity can increase to such an extent that it far exceeds the traffic that a packed car can be expected to generate.
– Our latest access point is designed to handle many simultaneous users. It will mean a revolution, because it is almost impossible to practically shovel so many people into a carriage.
In recent years, the government has taken a more active role in creating a good connection on board. Icomera is one of the players consulted. This week, a report came from the Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) in which three quick measures were identified: tests of a type of RF window that does not attenuate radio signals, a repeater system for transmitting radio signals inside the train and a wifi solution of the kind that Icomera builds.
But in the slightly longer term, the question remains of how and who will pay for and build the capacity required in the mobile networks.
– The problem is not technical, but political. Who takes the financing in a deregulated market? It can be complicated business models and there would be a need for some government help, says Mats Karlsson.
Icomera is headquartered in Gothenburg
᛫ Founded: 1999.
᛫ Where: Gothenburg. Has twelve more offices in several parts of the world.
᛫ Do: Including wifi systems for trains, buses, trams and ferries. Millions of people in tens of thousands of vehicles use Icomera’s technology every day.
. Owner: Engie Solutions, a French energy group that in 2019 had sales of around SEK 600 billion.
Selected customers: SJ, Deutsche Bahn, Siemens, Trenitalia, Amtrak, Greyhound.
᛫ Employees: 350.
Mats Karlsson about …
᛫ … manufacturing in Sweden: “We are a very odd company in Sweden, because we manufacture our own equipment. With the 5g router, we actually make a powerful computer in Sweden, it is manufactured in Borås. We had chassis production in China, but now we are casting them in Småland. I do not know if there are so many computer manufacturers in Sweden, we are one of two or maybe three. ”
᛫ … licensed and unlicensed spectrum: “We use both. If you have a very controlled environment where no one else exists, it can be an advantage to drive unlicensed. ”
᛫ … edge solutions: “We use our router as an edge solution and run virtual machines in it. In addition to trains and buses, we also deliver to the aviation industry where it is used to show films to passengers. ”