The fibre operator has entered into exclusive discussions for the infrastructure upgrade contract that could be worth around £1 billion
Network Rail’s Project Reach was first announced back in 2021, with the rail network operator seeking £1 billion in private sector investment to upgrade its existing connectivity infrastructure.
The company’s connectivity infrastructure currently spans around 16,000km, carrying operation-critical information including CCTV, trackside sensors, signalling, and high-speed broadband provision for offices, depots and trains.
This upgrade would include a broad shift from its existing copper networks to gigabit fibre, as well as deploying roughly 250 additional mobile masts to deliver 5G connectivity to customers.
Interestingly, this upgrade is expected to leave the network with excess capacity, which Network Rail suggests could then be utilised by an operator partner. This could theoretically help an operator provide cost-effective coverage in hard-to-reach areas that the railway passes through – areas that would otherwise not economically feasible to reach.
Just how often this would be the case, however, is up for debate; by its very nature, the railway network travels primarily between urban hubs that are already well served by connectivity providers.
Last year, suitors for the contract had been reduced to two consortia, one led by Neos Networks and Cellnex, the other by Virgin Media, with Nokia and Jacobs.
Now, Neos Networks has been named as the preferred partner for Project Reach, having entered into exclusive discussions with Network Rail for the contract.
“This new network will deliver a step-change in connectivity and available capacity, which, in turn will help to transform UK rail for the passengers and neighbouring communities it serves,” said Colin Sempill, CEO at Neos Networks. “We look forward to working with Network Rail to finalise the contract and start mobilising this project which will see the creation of numerous jobs in different geographies. This is critical for us as we continue to support UK businesses and service providers with the high-capacity connectivity services essential for innovation and help deliver on the government’s plans to improve the availability of high-quality broadband across the UK.”
Network Rail’s formal decision is expected to be announced in the coming months.
To what extent will improved railway connectivity benefit rural communities? Join the experts in discussion at this year’s Connected North
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