Virgin has finally switched on wi-fi access on its trains, a mere two years after it was supposed to arrive. The service is now available on all "Pendolino" trains operating on the West Coast Main Line, which the company tells us is around 70 per cent of the fleet. Wi-fi access comes in the form of T-Mobile hotspots, so is …
Never travelled the line but...
... if the 3G reception on a speeding train up that line is anything like the main line to the south west then it's rubbish, with tunnels, high sided banks etc and huge gaps in coverage when all you can see is fields - nearly useless for anything productive, I can only really use the web between Reading and London, and that's slow.
So this service is probably needed, and I can't see it being redundant for years to come...
East Coast Line is better
At least the WiFi access is free!
"with 3G coverage and data tariffs improving daily, the service could find itself redundant before the technology does."
Yeah, improving daily - they could hardly get any worse. I've yet to get a signal at all with my Virgin 3G modem on a Virgin train, except for the couple of minute while it's pulled into a station. At least that's long enough to open a few pages in FF tabs, but that's hardly what I signed up to so-called "mobile broadband" for.
Will Virgin Mobile customers get wifi access on Virgin trains too I wonder? It might be the only way I can contact the outside world, I certainly never get mobile coverage on Virgin, while everyone around me is chattering loudly into their phones.
Why T-Mobile.... i get free coverage from BT and Cloud on the iPhone... now i may have to pay for my jaunts up the West Coast.
Or i could continue to read a book....
WiMAX vs 3G
Anyone got any idea how effective WiMAX is at 120mph? I'm my experience, GPRS or 3G has been patchy at best and it wasn't about signal strength - it was about the speed of the train, perhaps jumping between base stations. The same problem occurs even within London on slow commuter trains.
Trying to get data or make a call on the Eurostar at 180mph is pretty tough, at least in the UK. It's better on the TGV in France at the same speed but I suspect that's because (without such a dense population) a phone can hang onto the same base station for longer before having to work at transferring to the next?
I'm going on a Virgin train tomorrow so a comparison will be made.
The east coast line operated by Virgin has woeful cellular coverage, I struggle to get more than 30min of access through my data card on a 5hour journey, so Virgin providing WiMax connections to an ADSL backbone is a much better (read as 'actually functional') solution.
But, through a T-Mobile hotspot!? I already pay for net access through a Virgin connection at home (will this get me virgin train access?) an O2 iPhone contract and a Three mobile broadband contract.
Guess I'll be sticking with the east coast line where I can share a connection through the train's free wi-fi or get decent 3G coverage through my data card.
But will it also enable the long awaited arrival of the trains being on time ?
Somehow I doubt it.
3G speeds are poor when moving
When trying to get indicative bandwidths for 3G I discovered that if you read the detail of 3G, there's no guaranteed speeds - only "expected" speeds - and these say that the 2Mbps+ speeds are for stationary devices. Walking pace can drop it to 384Kbps and at "moving vehicle" speeds, you may get 128Kbps.
I don't know whether that shows itself in real life - but I'd be interested what 3G speeds you get at 60mph on a train, or even faster.
The Pendolinos have on train repeaters, ensuring that coverage for participating operators is much better than usual coverage on trains.
3g at 120mph?
Hmmmm.... my information is more than a few years out of date but I remember cell swapping only being guaranteed at 60mph, although that was 1G.
The second point is that if you're on Orange the pendolino carriages had an unfortunate faraday cage effect that blocked transmission -- the other providers were in a different part of the spectrum and weren't so badly affected. This may have been resolved somehow, I had to switch away so I can't check it now.
Free in first class and amusingly it thinks you are in Germany. Handy for slipping past filters on certain US websites to watch The Daily Show in full.
Used it yesterday between Euston and Birmingham - bar a couple of dropouts in tunnels it was spot on. Much better than National Express (or whatever they are called this month) on the East Coast.
Steep though. 9.79 for 24Hrs, which you need to cover your return journey.
Problem being my return journey was in an old InterCity 125, half of which was still in BR livery and had signs in the window stating "On hire to Virgin" - I'd be embarrassed too if I'd charged someone 50 quid for a ticket only to find the return journey was in a 30 year old piss stained train that reeked of electrical fire the entire way.
3G at 120mph?
No thanks... although I have to admit that on FGW HST's from Oxford to London the connectivity is great (except between Radley and Didcot). But that's Vodafone, not Orange or (*barf*) T-Mobile.
I'll take the WiFi hotspot over 3G at 120 mph any day.
I was using the WiFi on a Virgin west-coast train last week, and as much as I hate to compliment a company like Virgin Trains, it actually worked really well. Certainly far better than my "Three" 3G dongle, which as other poster have mentioned, is complete crap -- it just doesn't seem to work at all as soon as the train is more than three miles away from the nearest city. WiFi is free in first class, as well.
3G on the move
It's a well known flaw of 3G that it slows down a lot when moving, even at walking pace. I don't think it's even related to switching cells, though that will happen a lot more with a speeding train.
My experience of 3G on a train has been pretty poor, though it can be marginally better than GPRS.
However a simple solution is to put picocells in the trains to provide everyone with a relatively static 3G signal rather than a moving target.
WiFi is okay but easily overloaded with a few users and most of the big operators provide really crap deals for occasional PAYG (e.g. pay £8 for an hour whether you use it for an hour or not!). PAYG 3G mobile broadband is now cheaper if you only want occasional use, and can be charged on data used, not time. WiFi was supposed to free us from terrible data charges on mobiles, but it seems the situation has reversed.
Useful for schedules.
It would be useful if they could give you real time telemetry of the train's position, which could even perhaps be an unofficial app helpful passengers with GPS receivers could volunteer to run and send out via Twitter or a webpage--might be popular, make some money for the owner. That way you could look up the REAL schedule.
The 'service' is unreliable and a pain in the ass
I travel quite frequently on the west coast main line with Virgin. Last time coming back down it took 15 minutes to get an IP address out of their wireless and when that finally did arrive the ping round trip time to google.co.uk was between 2,000 and 4,000 ms. Perhaps it was being bandwidth throttled because the naughty train had downloaded too much data that day?
Unsurprisingly the service is as crap as Virgin Mediocre cable, no doubt it will also be fully Phormed as soon as Virgin can install that cash machine.
To be fair to them, on the odd occasion when it works it is quite handy.
...that the signup screen doesn't work on either the S60 browser or Opera Mini. Good grief... nobody thought to check that??!!
(hat tip: http://thereallymobileproject.com/2009/04/virgin-trains-free-wi-fi-except-on-mobile-devices/)
Virgin's Pendolino Trains are an overpriced disgrace. Cramped, smelly, woeful catering...
Go to France and ride a proper long distance train (TGV). Or Malaysia. Or Japan.
Hardly any suprise really in a country that for 3 decades has thrown public money in huge quantities at an inefficient, polluting road network leaving a money grabbing private enterprise to milk the nations railways.
Doesn't look like such a smart strategy now the double whammy realisation of oil import dependency and anthropomorphic climate change due to burning fossil fuels has inconveniently appeared.
"though with 3G coverage and data tariffs improving daily, the service could find itself redundant before the technology does"
Evidently the writer has never tried to use 3G services on a train going speeds in excess of 120mph.
I use the NXEC regularly which has free wifi services, which can be a godsend but it also sucks mostly, browsing is a pain and don't even attempt to watch a youtube vid or beeb news. Works great for email - maybe virgin's service will be better with wimax kit.
The results from the Brummie jury...
For the record (now that everyone has forgotten about this story!) I did some quick back-of-the-fag-packet test on the train between London and Birmingham using speedtest.net. And this is what you get:
3G (stationary in Coventry) using T-Mobile and a phone with a USB cable:
download: 0.15 Mb/s
upload: 0.05 Mb/s
3G (100mph-ish) - two tests:
ping: 223 / 400
download: 0.2 / 0.05 Mb/s
upload: 0.05 / 0.05 Mb/s
Onboard WiFi (100mph-ish) - two tests:
ping: 241 / 185
download: 0.91 / 0.85 Mb/s
upload: 0.31 / 0.26
So, pretty good. AND, maintaining a 3G connection for the 45 minutes in the countryside between the M25 and Coventry was a chore. But in cities 3G is fine, good enough to maintain a VNC connection. And you can't watch BBC iPlayer because it thinks you're in Germany (love those German adverts).
75p per 10 minutes? It's not outrageous, but if you can use 3G then you might as well at those times it's possible.