Birmingham venture capital specialist Midven has made an investment in a Midland company whose innovative technology is set to revolutionise broadband internet access on high-speed trains.
Hitherto, high-speed trains, travelling at speeds up to 300 kilometres an hour, have been much too fast to allow internet access via a mobile telephone or computer, but Worcestershire-based 21 Net is set to change all that.
The company successfully delivered the world's first technical trials on a highspeed train in Spain last year.
Now, the company will use the £1.2 million cash raised from a recent finance package, led by Midven, together with a £900,000 million European Space Agency grant, to fund pilot trials of its impressive "Broadband to Trains" system.
In partnership with a major European railway operator, 21 Net will launch the world's first service in March.
The initiative will be of huge interest, particularly to business people who, of necessity, have to work whilst on the move and often need to access information from websites, or send and collect urgent e-mails from their laptop computers.
The system works by connecting the train to the internet via a dish, installed on its roof, which constantly keeps focused on a satellite. A Wi-Fi network enables the passenger to remain connected to the internet, wherever he or she is on the train.
Eventually, high- speed train passengers will also be able to watch movies via the connection.
Located at Great Malvern, 21 Net is a multinational company which is helping train operators to compete with similar services being offered by airlines. Boeing has recently been in trials with Lufthansa to develop internet links on the German operator's worldwide routes.
Midven, which made its investment from the Advantage Growth Fund, realised the vast potential in the technology developed by 21 Net.
"The market for mobile internet connection is taking off and there are around 5,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in the UK, but 21 Net is the only company in the world to prove that it can provide high-speed train passengers with effective internet connection," said Midven investment director Tony Stott.
"This will have immense benefits to business people and many other passengers."
Henry Hyde- Thomson, chairman of 21 Net, praised Midven, who are the managers of the Advantage Growth Fund, for a successful conclusion to the investment process, despite a complicated deal structure involving institutional, management and private investors, in all totalling 30 parties.
The £20 million Advantage Growth Fund was launched in February 2003 by Advantage West Midlands to invest venture capital in small and medium-sized companies in the West Midlands. Its investors include Barclays Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, the European Investment Fund, local universities and the Department of Trade and Industry.