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Orange rolls out 3G connectivity to Channel Tunnel in time for Olympics

Orange has announced that it is bringing 2G and 3G services to the Channel Tunnel with immediate effect, making Internet access and calling possible some 100 metres under the sea in a move that sees Eurostar and Eurotunnel users benefit from enhanced connectivity options in time for the Olympics.

The new service will be included in Orange's French tariffs, but UK customers will be subject to standard roaming charges if they want to log-on. Prior to the announcement, the Channel Tunnel was a 30-minute connectivity dead-zone for travellers.

With the Eurostar London to Paris train journey taking around 2 hours to complete, that meant that approximately 25 per cent of a trip popular with businessmen and enterprise leaders was unconnected.

"Giving our customers the best possible service is our number one priority, which is why we were immediately interested in 2G and 3G coverage in the Channel Tunnel. We are proud to have taken part in a project as ambitious as this, both in terms of schedule and in terms of the conditions for its execution as well as the technological challenges to be met," commented Jean-Luc Vuillemin, Orange's technical director for networks and services.

For the network to be up and running at the same time as the 2012 Olympic Games required great commitment by Orange's technical teams," he added.

From a technical standpoint, the solution involved the deployment of a broadcast cable the length of the tunnel, the installation of 72 optical repeaters, and the creation of 2G/3G base stations at either end of the tunnel.

A unique regulatory framework also had to be established to make the network expansion possible, with the collaboration between French regulators Arcep and ANFR and British body Ofcom thought to be the first of its kind.

It is unclear why Orange has thus far only decided to offer free access to the service to its French customers, despite half of the line technically falling under UK jurisdiction.