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Superfast broadband for passengers

Passengers on boats, planes and other vehicles in the UK could enjoy superfast broadband from later this year, Ofcom has announced.

The regulator has authorised the use of so-called earth stations - devices which provide internet to passengers by connecting to a "geostationary" satellite - on vehicles.

The decision means airlines and other transport operators could use satellite-based technology to offer customers broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than they currently experience.

The technology also provides an alternative means of connection on trains and coaches.

Passengers currently access the internet on vehicles using smartphones and internet-connected dongles, or by using entertainment consoles on aircraft or Wi-Fi on trains. However, in remote locations - particularly on planes and ships - speeds have been limited by the technology available.

Ofcom said earth stations will allow much faster data speeds, as it is making a relatively large amount of high-frequency spectrum available for their use.

Recent advances in technology have improved the effectiveness of earth stations, with newer antennas capable of maintaining stable "pointing" accuracy. This allows the earth station to track the satellite closely even when mounted on a fast-moving vehicle, making it easier to maintain a reliable internet connection.

Ofcom's group director of spectrum Philip Marnick said: "We want travellers to benefit from superfast broadband on the move at the kind of speeds they expect from their connection at home.

"Today's decision means that operators of trains, boats and planes will soon be able to begin the process of making these valuable services available to their passengers."

Devices that are mounted on land-based vehicles, such as trains, will be exempt from the need for a spectrum licence.

Earth stations mounted on aircraft or ships will need to be licensed by Ofcom, as they are capable of crossing into other countries' jurisdictions.

Ofcom said the first commercial deployments of the technology on vehicles in the UK are likely to begin later this year.

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