back to article Free WiFi coming to UK trains ... in two years

Future operators of train franchises in the UK will have to include free WiFi in their bids, Rail Minister Claire Perry announced on Wednesday. The bad news is that there are no new franchises up for grabs until 2017. The good news is that the Department of Transport has found £50 million "to ensure WiFi is available on …

  1. jzlondon

    And all because the mobile networks are so poor along the train lines that using the internet on a train is like taking a Morris Minor to the Alps.

    1. I_am_Chris

      "And all because the mobile networks are so poor along the train lines that using the internet on a train is like taking a Morris Minor to the Alps."

      It will make no difference. Where do you think the trains get their wifi from? Yup, that's right, the mobile networks. So, if there's no 3G available then wifi will not work either.

      1. jzlondon

        Yes, but the train routers have massive aerials.

        1. Cliff

          >>Yes, but the train routers have massive aerials.

          And yet still manage to provide extremely slow and patchy wifi. I've tried it free and paid, it's shit.

          You would be better off using your phone as a hotspot, but the Cross Country and Virgin train sets are little Faraday cages, something to do with the window tint I understand, which massively attenuate your own signal. HST's are fine by comparison.

          1. jzlondon

            Re: >>Yes, but the train routers have massive aerials.

            Trains sets? There's your problem, right there. Try riding on the full size trains instead.

  2. Oddlegs

    "especially for those making lengthy journeys to the North"

    Except all of the train companies mentioned only operate short distance commuter lines into London?

    I don't see the need for this. Who doesn't have a data package nowadays on their phones which will be at least as fast as any free wifi used by several hundred people per train would be? Commuter services are also so packed that there's no chance of getting a laptop out to do any meaningful work. This just seems to be a massive white elephant which will no doubt be used as an excuse to justify ever higher fares.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge
      Boffin

      London?

      all of the train companies mentioned only operate short distance commuter lines into London

      Arriva Trains Wales?

      Route map

      Presumably this can be mandated as part of the rolling-stock upgrade that will be required when (if) the lines are electrified. Anything's better than the cattle trucks ATW operate on most of the network at the moment.

      Hwyl!

      M.

    2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      The Size of My Package...

      ...makes no difference when there's no mobile signal at all. Two days ago a 1.25 rail journey into London had no mobile coverage at all for about 15 minutes of the journey and basic GSM for about 20 mins. So that's almost half the journey without any data.

      Serious question: does the current train WiFi come over the mobile phone network or do the train companies have their own radio spectrum for it?

      1. Wilseus

        Re: The Size of My Package...

        Serious question: does the current train WiFi come over the mobile phone network or do the train companies have their own radio spectrum for it?

        I believe they have their own infrastructure, it's the same one with which the drivers can keep in contact with the controllers I think.

        Don't quote me on this though.

        1. Oddlegs

          Re: The Size of My Package...

          I believe they have their own infrastructure, it's the same one with which the drivers can keep in contact with the controllers I think.

          Given the lack of announcements by drivers on Great Northern trains and the fact that when they do happen more often than not they're to say "I don't know the reason for the delay" it doesn't bode well for the performance of any new wifi network.

        2. theModge

          Re: The Size of My Package...

          Sadly we're not as far from men with flags by way of contacting the controller as you'd like to think...

          Actually that's not true. GSMR covers a lot, but not all of the railway, but any case this is like GSM but with LESS data provision, not more. It's far from 3G, much less 4G and certainly has nothing to spare for passengers wifi. In a lot of cases signallers know where trains are to the nearest track circuit, which whilst quite small near stations and junctions can be a couple of kilometres in the middle of nowhere. So nope. No excess of bandwidth to use, though ERMTS level 3 calls for it, that might be implemented by 2040 (yes. 2040. That's the time scales they work on. I know. It's mental)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Size of My Package...

        My train commute (Great Northern into KX) involves two long tunnels which is great for shutting up the usual "yeah but he said, and I was like, no way, and he was like, whatever, and I was like, you can't, and he was like..." ad nauseam conversations 95% of people under 30 insist on having with their phones, but pretty crap for continuous work. So I'm not getting too excited about this.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: The Size of My Package...

          At least when your train is stuck inside Gasworks Tunnel waiting for Platform 0 to become free the Twitterarti can't complain about it to the outside world.

          So unlike what happens outside Waterloo. I've seen people tweet when we have been held at signals for 30 secs and we are still early and ontime when we pull into the platform.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Size of My Package...

        http://www.icomera.com/solutions/

    3. getHandle

      > white elephant

      Absolutely - more bl**dy carriages are what's needed on Southern, at least!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: > white elephant

        "Absolutely - more bl**dy carriages are what's needed on Southern, at least!"

        If only it was that easy... What's needed are more railway lines. The network is pretty much the busiest it has ever been, but it's smaller than it used to be. Making trains longer means new platforms and new signalling and can, counter-intuitively, reduce capacity* as fewer trains are able to run in the same space.

        *Imagine a scenario where you decide that you need to be able to cook greater quantities of food and so replace your saucepans with much bigger ones. Great plan, except that now one new pan overlaps where the others would go and so you can only fit one on the hob at a time. Capacity reduces.

    4. LucreLout Silver badge

      Who doesn't have a data package nowadays on their phones which will be at least as fast as any free wifi used by several hundred people per train would be?......This just seems to be a massive white elephant which will no doubt be used as an excuse to justify ever higher fares

      The fares will go ever higher whether or not we get anything for it.

      I tried using wifi to RDP into the office only once (corporate firewall prevents any work product leaving its boundaries).... It took 9/10ths of the 40 min train journey just to trigger a re-run of an AutoSys job.

      In theory, the wifi shouldn't disconnect the way my phone does as the whole train won't usually be under a bridge or tunnel at the same time.

      While I welcome better connectivity, I'd prefer they simply insist that some sort of mobile repeater be used instead, allowing us to use our ordinary data packages on our mobiles without all the disconnects. It limits the advertising, throttling etc to which we'd be subjected, and provided there is one at either end of the train the blackspots should reduce.

    5. ToddR

      Data packages are expensive, free Wifi isn't!

    6. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Except all of the train companies mentioned only operate short distance commuter lines into London?

      Chiltern?

      Kidderminster > Birmingham > London

      Stratford Upon Avon > Warwick > London

      1. Sarah Balfour

        I was just about to say the same thing. Been running 3 or 4 years on mainline (London to Brum) services.

      2. David Beck

        New?

        We can add that Chiltern already has free wifi. So what exactly is being added?

  3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Gimmick

    Without the supporting infrastructure this is a gimmick. I do not see anythiing anywhere to force railtrack (or whatever it is called today) to provide backhaul along the rail-line and base-stations with predicted handover. A train is the easiest moving object to deliver high bandwidth to via wireless as it is moving with a known speed in a known direction so you can handover based on a predefined sequence instead of handover based on radio conditions. If you want to give a train several 100s of MBit you can do it with ease _IF_ you serve it using specialized backhaul and wireless.

    So the train companies will all stick a single 3G/4G mifi per carriage (if not one per whole train) which will get saturated by 3 commuters and will not do anything about the abject absense of coverage along main UK rail routes. It will also have to compete vs all the mobiles in the same carriage so if it gets 16KBits you can sing halleluia and jump with joy.

    Try using mobile on London to MK or London to Cambridge. And wheep - there are up to 15 minutes gaps where there is no coverage whatsoever (or a single channel of edge).

    1. ToddR

      Re: Gimmick

      Correct, correct and Correct.

      That's what we have developed

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gimmick

      Absolutely - Network Rail should be providing dedicated backhaul for the train companies to then consume and deliver on to passengers. That would also be a far more efficient and consistent model of provision than getting each train company to figure it out separately.

  4. Chris Miller

    Chiltern experience

    Chiltern Railways have had free WiFi on their 'Mainline' services for a few years now. It works well in terms of getting signed in, but in a crowded rush hour carriage data rates are a few kb/s.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Chiltern experience

      From my experience of Chiltern back in the day just having trains would have been an improvement. Many hours were spent on Marylebone station waiting for them to find enough working DMUs to cobble together a train. At least that was my guess as to what was happening.

      1. Chris Miller

        @Doctor Syntax

        Your experience is out of date - Chiltern offer one of the best and most reliable London commuting experiences (though that is, I admit, damning with faint praise). That having been said, there are currently the dreaded replacement buses between Banbury and Leamington, following a landslip in a cutting that threatens to collapse onto the line. My sources tell me it won't be fixed before April at the earliest.

    2. ToddR

      Re: Chiltern experience

      On train Wifi wont work for long. You need APs along the lines

    3. BigAndos

      Re: Chiltern experience

      East Coast have it and exactly the same thing happens. If you get on the train at the starting station before everyone else is on you can get a really good connection. It gradually becomes useless as the train fills up!

  5. Andy Mc

    Frankly I'd settle for not being herded in cattle trucks before forcing them to introduce wifi. A journey on a Southern service along the south coast usually means being cooped up in an airless box with no toilets for an hour and a half. The trains in the arse-end of China are considerably more civilised...

  6. I_am_Chris

    Already exists on Scotrail

    Scotrail already have free wifi on all/most of their journeys. It works pretty well given the usual caveats of shared bandwidth and slow speeds.

    Poor reporting el Reg or does Scotland not count as UK anymore.

    1. SolidSquid

      Re: Already exists on Scotrail

      Pretty sure Northern Ireland's rail system is devolved too, so they wouldn't have to abide by/may already have something like this

      1. D.A.

        Re: Already exists on Scotrail

        You are correct - Translink/NI Railways in Northern Ireland already has free Wifi on all their trains, but it does of course use the mobile network, therefore data rates are generally absolutely dire.

        Note that we also have it on our express (Goldline) buses, which is slightly better due to the lower number of passengers attempting to all use the same connection simultaneously.

    2. Caledonian

      Re: Already exists on Scotrail

      The vast majority of ScotRail trains (the ones that run through Edinburgh anyway) don't have Wifi. Hopefully the new Dutch operator will sort this out.

      1. bed

        Re: Already exists on Scotrail

        Scotrail are in a process up installing wi-fi on class 158 and 380 trains and there has been a program of track-side infastructure upgrades to provide the backhaul (you will see new lattics masts where here and there). Many stations also have wi-fi. This is funded by the Scottish Government.

        http://www.scotrail.co.uk/free-wifi-future-rollout-plans.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FGW WiFi is dire

    You can't even get an IP address assigned most of the time.

    When you are lucky enough to connect its actually ok but god knows how they have set it up?

  8. Tromos
    Joke

    Will it be...

    High Speed too?

  9. CaptainThunder

    Could they kindly target some..

    ...at franchises like Greater Anglia that charge but can't be arsed to make it work properly?

    Or are Abellio not actually arsed about renewing the franchise at all?

  10. Ben Rose
    Megaphone

    Who cares?

    To be honest, why are all these people demanding WiFi?

    All I need is a service that runs to the timetable and doesn't have constant signal failures.

    If the services ran on time, we'd spend less time on our phones and more time where we want to be.

    South West Trains, I'm looking at you.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    London Midland cattle trucks / South Eastern skips / Southern *

    "There's no word on the nature of the service, what speeds will be expected and/or required or whether service will be required in tunnels or underground"

    Why should there be - there's no word on when there will be clean trains, on time, and with enough seats? London Midland can't even be bothered to have food/drink service on three or four hour journeys, and when was the last time anyone saw a working, clean toilet on a SouthEastern metro service?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: London Midland cattle trucks / South Eastern skips / Southern *

      "London Midland can't even be bothered to have food/drink service on three or four hour journeys"

      That's what you get by being a cheapskate and using LM for a London to Liverpool journey.

      A Virgin Pendolino is a far quicker and more civilised way of making longer journeys. If LM had wifi, I'd still pay more to use wi-fi less Virgin, and have two hours extra of my life when I get to my destination.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: London Midland cattle trucks / South Eastern skips / Southern *

        if they took less than half the time for more than twice the money, I might think about it. Ridiculous it's cheaper to fly from London to Dublin & then Dublin to Manchester than pay the full rail fare.

  12. Alienrat

    I was impressed by the free wifi going into london from the west the other day on SW Trains - first time I had noticed that, it was fast and efficient, and pretty good as most of the time there is no signal on that train. That was at lunchtime.

    I came home at 6:30. The free wifi wouldn't connect, and when it did there was no data going through it. It would have been nice to distract me from the lack of seat and standing room only on the train until we got past Woking.

  13. ukgnome Silver badge

    Currently the trains that offer extortionate Wi-Fi use a satellite system. It is slow and expensive.

    Just what is the government offering? And why?

  14. ToddR

    Its Wifi that's the problem

    As Wifi is connection orientated, with long latency delays, it drops connection frequently. Put some tunnels and cuttings in the way and packets get buffered for so long then overflow and loss of service.

    The solution is a connection orientated Wifi where the APs are beside the track, with 100usec latency between APs, result unbreakable Wifi at 100mph.

    Looking for funding, serious!

    R

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its Wifi that's the problem

      That was the conclusion a tentative feasibility study came to - nearly 20 years ago. It was fun having a train parked in a station for a day to play with.

  15. theOtherJT

    So who's actually paying for this then?

    The good news is that the Department of Transport has found £50 million "to ensure WiFi is available on selected services from 2017."

    Really? Because I thought that would be for the train operators to fund. Why are we paying profit making entities to provide a service that apparently we're legislating into their contracts that they have to provide?

  16. Arachnoid

    Accoring to a BBC Radio 4 "expert"

    "The WiFi will be provided through roof mounted routers running from a 3G or 4G service".To put it in laymans terms if you have a poor mobile signal on your service right now then your simply going to have a poor WiFi connection through this service too.

    Anyhow why are the Governemnt in an economic recession throwing tax payers money at private companys in the first place?

  17. dogged

    Claire Perry?

    So you'll be able to get a wifi connection but everything available on it will be heavily censored and pre-approved by Mumsnet and the Daily Mail?

  18. Just Enough
    Facepalm

    Works both ways

    "The measure's being promoted as a productivity-enhancer, especially for those making lengthy journeys to the North."

    I guess this wifi will examine the passenger's ticket, and not enhance the productivity of those making lengthy journeys to the South. Isn't technology amazing?

    Unfortunate South-centric thinking from El Reg.

  19. Caledonian

    I've used ScotRail's free Wifi service between Glasgow and Edinburgh (via Carstairs), and because there is basically nothing but fields and sheep between the two cities on that line, the Wifi is useless. Presumably because there is no GPRS never mind 3G/4G signal.

    You have to laugh at them using the new Wifi enabled trains on this route.

  20. Calleb III

    1st World problem

    Most of the trains are still dumping human waste on the tracks including at the stations.

    Most of the trains have no air conditioning.

    And people/Gov worry about WiFi....

    Besides i doubt it will be free, as the rail operators will just include the bill for the WiFi in the bid for the franchise and pass it on to the passengers via increased fare price...

  21. batfastad

    Priorities

    Well that sounds like it will make fares cheaper so a +1 from me. Waiddaminute!

    Since public transport is clearly aimed at the luxury travel market these days, I would expect very decent connection speeds.

    When East Coast GNER National Express (or whatever they're called this week) say on-board wifi what they mean is a bunch of 3G/4G dongles bonded together across the length of the train. Not that it matters. I'd rather use my own bandwidth from my phone/whatever device, than a connection shared amongst a carriage or 12.

  22. no-one in particular

    Free WiFi to ad-server in the guards's van

    Nothing in the article said that the WiFi was going to connect to any off-train network...

  23. Saint Gerbil
    FAIL

    Typical London Midland

    The trains barely run so of course they wont do wifi.

  24. Lord Egerton
    Big Brother

    Meanwhile in Manchester

    Metrolink have already started to implement free WiFi on the trams.

    Can't comment on how good it is as I've not used it myself as I've generally always had sufficient 3G signal along the routes.

    Then again it might be useful for people on the Nothing Nowhere network.

  25. Jim99

    Or...

    The government (via state-owned National Rail) owns all the track and the land the track is on. If it offered cheap leases to mobile phone companies for masts and cables along all of the UK's rail routes, then 3G/4G masts every 300 yds (including in cuttings, tunnels, etc) would mean mobile broadband for passengers under their existing phone packages and back-up comms for the rail operators. No public money needed.

  26. JaitcH
    WTF?

    VietNam: Land of thousands of WiFi equipped buses - and a great resource for pedo's, etc

    VietNam is, too many, a place where America got it's comeuppance.

    In fact, it is a crucible where technology manufacturers market test new products and potential products. And the citizens are smart enough to exploit new technology. And the government is fairly tolerant in this respect. (We even have amateur radio operators, chip foundries, etc). We also have almost total cell coverage backed up by satellite services for the most remote areas.

    WiFi has been a major marketing factor since the earliest modems became available. And when mobile WiFi became available it was fitted to the numerous thousands of buses, seated and sleeper, that ply the roads.

    I had an opportunity to test these mobile hot spots recently when I travelled from Ho Chi Minh City, down to the southern coast at Rach Gia and then east to Ha Tien, the nearest town to the Cambodian border. Throughout the journey I was able to view YouTube videos with minimal delays.

    On the way back to my hotel, I happened to pass by the rear side of the bus station parking lot where I spotted many laptop and smartphone screens lighting the darkness. Curious, I wandered over.

    There, I found, about 20-30 teenagers busy accessing free bus WiFi - it appears that buses all over the country leave their WiFi equipment energised 24/7 - and getting great service (speed) as well. (Passwords are painted in large lettering above the drivers window)

    Just imagine the possibilities in the UK. Free, mobile, access to all manner of web sites that might offend the sensibilities of Nannies and Cameron - funded by the Tory government! And Plod following along trying to figure out who was uploading girlie pics, etc.

  27. toffer99

    Another day, another politicians' promise. No breath to be held, please.

  28. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    Election coming soon...

    Blatant rubbish designed to bribe potential voters.

  29. x 7

    Not sure, but I think many of you are looking in the wrong direction.....it may have changed but the first implementations of broadband on UK rail was not via 3G, but instead via a router which buffered requests and uploaded / downloaded data to / from trackside balises at regular intervals (quarter-mile gaps brings a memory), These balises were plugged into the rail networks data connection.

    You didn't have real-time connection: every data transfer had to wait for the next connection to the next balise along the track, so latency becomes a major issue.

    Having said that, it looks like like Network Rail has pretensions to be a player in the bigger broadband picture (see http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240235157/Network-Rail-extends-fibre-network-to-rural-broadband-providers)

    One suggestion in the past has been that the Settle-Carlisle line is the natural route for a broadband backbone route in east Cumbria, providing feeds to the local villages which would otherwise never happen, maybe by local radio links from the line to the buildings, If that could be paired with in-carriage broadband then the overall unit cost may become affordable. Many other similar rural routes could provide similar access to remote areas

  30. AnoniMouse

    One way traffic?

    >> The measure's being promoted as a productivity-enhancer,

    >> especially for those making lengthy journeys to the North.

    Or even those travelling FROM the North.

  31. Sporkinum

    As an American

    As an American, I'm surprised. Our rail is generally considered to be behind most of the world. I took a 3 hour intrastate train to Chicago a few months ago, and the free WiFi was fine. Ran a speed test and I was getting 12 down and 3 up. Most of it was rural, and at 70-90 mph.

    Hope you get decent service sooner.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: As an American

      Here, local services are typically 85-90 mph, intercity services are 125mph and international services are 300km/h (186 mph).

      1. x 7

        Re: As an American

        don't give him a hard time...remember that Americans driving at 70 is fast

        1. Sporkinum

          Re: As an American

          Yep, and our trains don't have dedicated tracks. We run on freight lines and the freight trains have precedence over passenger. As far as 70mph in a car, I won't go any faster as I am a cheap bastard, but most on the freeways go 75-80, with the speed limit being 65-70.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: As an American

            Shared usage

            And we get heavy freight and high speed on the same lines. Usually by running 4 lines, or long passing loops.

            Or by running freights faster.

      2. NoOnions

        Re: As an American

        ...and 140mph on the High Speed services.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mind the CRAP

    "I'm on the train"

    "YES"

    "I'm on the train!..."

  33. x 7

    this is worth a quick glance http://bit.ly/1CqHJfg

    OK its marketing blurb, but it makes it clear that for a new trainset with all the modern contrivances such as passenger announcements, destination boards, seat reservation signs, on board ticketing, fault identification........adding broadband for customers is a trivial bolt-on just requiring an interface between the rail comms network and the internet. The data network is already there on the train, its just a case of allowing the public to use it. Safely. Last thing you want is someone hacking into the drivers controls and overriding a braking action...................

    where you're going to have problems is if the powers that be insist on broadband in older stock such as the Pacers........the cost of wiring and fitting is probably greater than the residual scrap value of those clapped out bus-bodied boneshakers

  34. John 98

    train wifi - good news maybe later

    I understand the rail companies have internal uses for high speed data between train and track - maintenance of both, tighter control of trains to save fuel, achieve capacity increases etc.etc. The current gsm-r is to be replaced and a new much faster system is to be installed along all tracks. Some genius has worked out (and got it on the agenda) it should be used for passenger wifi. As ever, there are international standards to be ratified, kit to be tested and so on so it will take a while.

    1. billse10

      Re: train wifi - good news maybe later

      also don't forget you buy the same AP for £75 or £1475, depending on whether you want EN50155 compliance for railway usage .. or switches that change from being worth £10 to £700.

      etc

  35. MJI Silver badge

    Is it only on the NMT?

    As per picture

  36. MJI Silver badge

    Choice of trains

    To be honest when it comes to trains I would rather see what it is than worry about WiFi

    Hmm HST or Voyager, proper train FTW

    But put something decent* on the front and sod everything else.

    * Deltic, 50, 7P or 8P steam loco, Western ect.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    doing things properly

    Travelled across Estonia today, by coach / bus. Free wifi access from Tallinn to destination, four hours away. Including during a ferry crossing.

    When the train companies at home equal that, free of charge, then they can claim they are providing something worth talking about. Or rather, not talking about: no-one mentioned it, it was just expected.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019