back to article Cancelled in Crawley? At least your train has free Wi-Fi now, right?

Wi-Fi has been creeping its way on to UK trains over the last few years as the government seeks to deal with the issue of mobile dead-zones by getting the train companies to provide free connectivity. However, very low caps and aggressively throttling can make what is an often already unpleasant train journey all the more …

  1. Anne-Lise Pasch

    If only...

    ... there was this massively conductive metal strip under the train that could carry data, even in a tunnel.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If only...

      You'd almost think that nobody had tackled the tunnel problem before. Oh, wait...

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: If only...

        "You'd almost think that nobody had tackled the tunnel problem before. Oh, wait..."

        Installing thousands of miles of leaky feeder cable plus supporting infrastructure would

        A) Cost an absolute fortune which would be recovered from ticket costs

        B) Would be Network Rails responsibility, not train operators.

        Personally I think people should be grateful they can get wifi at all on a moving train and if they're unhappy with the free service then they can always take their chances with 4G. I'd prefer the train companies sort out their useless timetables and performance issues rather than waste time and money setting up infrastructure so some morons can talk bollocks on whatsapp or are so addicted that they can't wait an hour to get online.

        1. Dr_N Silver badge

          Re: If only...

          > I'd prefer the train companies sort out their useless timetables and performance issues rather than waste time and money setting up infrastructure so some morons can talk bollocks on whatsapp

          But they won't even do that will they.

          And with that attitude, the UK is always destined to be an IT, technology and infrastructure backwater.

          1. boltar Silver badge

            Re: If only...

            "And with that attitude, the UK is always destined to be an IT, technology and infrastructure backwater."

            There's something known as priorities and Wifi access should be somewhere near the bottom when it comes to railways. Their primary purporse is to get people from A to B, not act as a substitute hotspot. I spend enough money on travel as it is without subsidising playtime for kidults.

            1. Michael Habel Silver badge
              Meh

              Re: If only...

              Whats so great about Point "A", that so many Prople from Point "B" are so keen to get there, and whats so great about Point "B", that so many People from Point "A" are to get there? Why can't People just bloddy work out where the Hell they want to be?

              1. MrRimmerSIR!

                Re: If only...

                Life is a bit more nuanced that you appear to understand. Think about where most jobs are and how much it costs to live within those areas. Then think about the differing needs of people who are at different points in their lives.

                1. boltar Silver badge

                  Re: If only...

                  "Then think about the differing needs of people who are at different points in their lives."

                  No one is at the point in their life where they can't be without internet access for an hour or too. Even teenagers can manage to go without for that length of time if pushed. If someone really can't then they need professional help.

                  1. MrRimmerSIR!

                    Re: If only...

                    You misunderstand (or maybe I wasn't clear enough). I was commenting on the OPs lack of understanding about why people commute rather than live near where they work.

                2. David Nash Silver badge

                  Re: If only...

                  "Life is a bit more nuanced"

                  I think he was making a joke, and possibly one stolen from Douglas Adams (not 100% but I've definitely heard it before)

              2. dotdavid

                Re: If only...

                "Whats so great about Point "A", that so many Prople from Point "B" are so keen to get there"

                Given the opportunity I'd spend pretty much all of my time at Point A, but my boss likes me to be at Point B most of the week so I have little choice in the matter.

              3. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: If only...

                Whats so great about Point "A",

                Am I the only one to get the HHGTTG reference?

                :-)

                M.

                1. Michael Habel Silver badge

                  Re: If only...

                  Am I the only one to get the HHGTTG reference?

                  I should certinly hope not...

                2. David Nash Silver badge

                  Re: If only...

                  "Am I the only one to get the HHGTTG reference?"

                  No.. Thanks for confirming my memory!

                3. Teiwaz Silver badge
                  Joke

                  Re: If only...

                  Am I the only one to get the HHGTTG reference?

                  Spotted it at once - some heretic downvoted the quote though - we need Donald Sutherland to come do his Invasion of the Bodysnatchers bit and identify the dangerous pervert.

                  Joke icon - 'cause those without a sense of humour are breeding and bound to start the accusations on my language if attempts at humour are not easily labelled as such....

              4. Barry Rueger

                Re: If only...

                Whats so great about Point "A", that so many Prople from Point "B" are so keen to get there,

                Point A has a great WIFI connection?

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: If only...

              I would agree if tasks can only be done one at a time. However, that is not true is it?

              1. boltar Silver badge

                Re: If only...

                "I would agree if tasks can only be done one at a time. However, that is not true is it?"

                There is only 1 pot of money. Use some to provide wifi and you have less to pay for the important things.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: If only...

                  "There is only 1 pot of money. Use some to provide wifi and you have less to pay for the important things."

                  And there writes somebody whose understanding of economics is somewhat lacking. That's the logic that has left the British economy in relative decline since 2008 while Portugal is recovering and the Chinese are still doing very nicely, thank you.

                  Creating new services increases value and therefore creates more money, because nowadays money is theoretically tied to the total value of the relevant economy. It is not like having a fixed supply of gold coins.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: If only...

                    That's the logic that has left the British economy in relative decline since 2008 while Portugal is recovering and the Chinese are still doing very nicely, thank you.

                    There writes somebody whose understanding of economics is sadly lacking...... Portugal even now has double the unemployment rate of the UK, and the Chinese economic miracle has seen aggregate borrowing rise by 320% for a 120% rise in GDP over the last decade and a vast malinvestment in fixed assets that has yet to be unwound. Chinese GDP per capita is one fifth of the UK, Portuguese GDP per capita is just over half of the UK's.

                    Now, run it by me again what's so marvellous about China and Portugal? At the moment neither can even claim better weather or better football teams, although I'll grant that it's rather unusual that the UK/England are claiming an advantage in respect of either sunshine or football.

                    To give you credit, yes you used the words "relative decline" - but so what? Economics is always cyclical, so there's always relative movement that signifies little.

            3. Dr_N Silver badge

              Re: If only...

              >There's something known as priorities and Wifi access should be somewhere near the bottom when it comes to railways.

              Maybe the UK shouldn't have sold them off to the lowest bidder then?

              They work great elsewhere. And have free WiFi too. Fancy that!

              Personally I use (free) global roaming on my mobile tariff when travelling. Or a local data SIM in the 2nd slot. But I doubt that works too well in the UK either? Like I said: backwater.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: If only...

                They work great elsewhere. And have free WiFi too.

                Oh yeah? Tried a French commuter train (not the flashy subsidised TGVs)? They're every bit as bad as the old Network Southeast. When they aren't on strike that is.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If only...

          when you're regularly delayed and sitting on a train that should take an hour, but regularly takes 2 or more - when u should be sitting in meetings, decent wifi would help hugely. i thought train wifi was back-boned via WiiMax - when did we drop that? 4G chips on the roof feels REALLY amateur hour.

          its 2018 ffs - other countries have long since solved this problem. yes the railways are an absolute mess - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be adding modern services. Just look at the new rolling stock being introduced, some great additions, but then 30 charging sockets on a 800 capacity train, and only type of train got these chargers - most it was just overlooked.

          the whole thing needs renationalising and a serious investment programme put in place where the passenger is the customer again, not the DfT - who are completely happy with the current fiasco.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: If only...

            the whole thing needs renationalising and a serious investment programme put in place where the passenger is the customer again,

            Bwahahahahahaha! You romantic fool! Under nationalisation the end user was NEVER regarded as a customer. I remember when the GPO provided phone lines, and you often had to share a joint line between neighbours because running two twisted pairs from a street cabinet was too much like hard fucking work. I remember the shitty state of the railways under public ownership, and indeed the grim state of the water and energy industries (jointly heavy polluters and job creation schemes). And that was under government of all political persuasions.

            If nationalisation were a remedy for anything, we wouldn't need the private sector at all. Of course you'd have an economy like Venezuela, a justice system like Russia, and you'd be writing out your plea on slate because the personal computer, table and mobile phone would still be science fiction. But...maybe that is what you want?

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: If only...

              considering the current private system is essentially nationalised but just to foreign governments i think its worth trying again. the private model has completely failed, and the money being extracted from the industry has caused the problems we have today.

              I'd say try another model, but i dont know of one? do you?

              Take it from someone who has actually tried to get involved and sort this mess out. Romantic fool, no - desperate to reform this broken system and just get to work on time, yes.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: If only...

            "a serious investment programme put in place where the passenger is the customer again"

            You mean like, say, 10 billion...

            Why not scrap HS2 and replace current trains and improve comfort, facilities, and number of carriages, so on various routes there are no longer 1 to 2 hour commutes standing all the way...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If only...

          Their "useless timetables" are the responsibility of Network Rail, and hidden behind them is DfT.

          Network Rail gets involved to manage the rail use by freight and passenger trains and if it was down to the operators, then on any shared tracks there'd simply be chaos with them all wanting certain "popular" arrival and departure times. Bit like the "slots" auction at airports, the "users" don't have control over their times, not to the degree one might have hoped, anyway.

    2. Kane Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: If only...

      ... there was this massively conductive metal strip under the train that could carry data, even in a tunnel.

      Assuming you're talking about the third rail, then my train line doesn't have one. Not knowing a lot about trains, I couldn't tell you about the current state of the rolling stock, other than it's diesel. The branch line where I live isn't electrified.

      1. LisaJK

        Re: If only...

        Lucky you've got a branch line...!!!

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: If only...

        Assuming you're talking about the third rail

        Doesn't have to be the third rail (which you will notice is non-continuous anyway) but I don't think it could be made to work well using the normal rails, to be honest, mainly because they are already used as part of the signalling system and vehicle wheels short them out.

        M.

        1. old_iron

          Re: If only...

          signalling system is about to go into the cab, gonna need some secure/"speedy"connectivity to make that work

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re-inventing the wheel

            "signalling system is about to go into the cab, gonna need some secure/"speedy"connectivity to make that work"

            Secure tends to have different requirements than speedy. Fortunately, GSM-R has already been invented, has been around for years, and as far as I know hasn't yet been hijacked for multi-Terabytes per hour of useless junkmarketing garbage (or junk "security research" coverage). GSM-R in the UK and elsewhere seems to be reasonably well documented and reasonably widely deployed, perhaps because of the use of industry standards and co-operation rather than private sector innovation driven by industry giants like Microsoft and Intel (and, er, Carillion):

            https://www.rssb.co.uk/improving-industry-performance/gsm-r

            After GSM-R comes stuff like ERTMS. Again, it supposedly already exists, and not just on paper: e.g. "on trial" on the Cambrian line for years, see e.g.

            https://www.railengineer.uk/2015/08/28/ertms-a-reality-check/

            If we put Elon Musk AND Boris Johnson in charge... no let's not go there, that's a bridge too far.

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: If only...

      The trains are all delayed due to 'signal problems', yet you can still get a wifi signal on the train. Can't they put the signal boxes on the same network?

      1. David Nash Silver badge

        Re: If only...

        "Can't they put the signal boxes on the same network?"

        I hope not! I know the signals fail regularly but we need them to be at least theoretically better than the rubbish train wifi.

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Passengers excited by the prospect should keep in mind that things move slowly in the railway world

    Just remember that the Class 43 (HST 125s) were just a short-term stop gap but are still in use 40 years later. Of course, the best is the Class 483 trains on the Isle of Wight line: Originally built in 1938! And the new class 230s are actually refurbished tube trains originally built in 1980.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What's the oldest train still in use in the UK by anyone?

      If that was extended to worldwide there would be lot of contenders.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        I guess you mean regular public rail, rather than novelty or heritage?

        Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch?

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: I guess you mean regular public rail, rather than novelty or heritage?

          >I guess you mean regular public rail, rather than novelty or heritage?

          Suspect the Ffestiniog could have a claim here as its services form part of the rail network...

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: I guess you mean regular public rail, rather than novelty or heritage?

            Suspect the Ffestiniog could have a claim here as its services form part of the rail network...

            Do they? I know you can buy a through ticket, (we did that some years ago, travelling from Llandudno Junction to Pwllheli via Blaenau and back), so if that's the criteria then yes, you might be right.

            Some of their engines currently in use Prince and Palmerston date from 1864.

            M.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Probably Oxford Road to Liverpool Lime Street, the stocks that old your tempted to check if there's a horse pulling it.

      3. cosymart
        Happy

        What's the oldest train still in use in the UK by anyone?

        I think The Isle of Man has the oldest rolling stock, not only do they have a variety of steam locos some of them are pulled by horses as opposed to run by asses in the rest of the UK :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Old Tube Stock

      > Of course, the best is the Class 483 trains on the Isle of Wight line: Originally built in 1938!

      I gather that after years of paying a lot of money to lease the old tube stock, that the Isle of Wight line eventually bought them for £1. And that they are now painted proper London Transport Red.

      1. old_iron

        Re: Old Tube Stock

        Don't expect HSBC Rail lost any sleep over the £1 price, they'd milked the lease for years

    3. old_iron

      Ryde tunnel is about a foot to small to take pwoper southern stock

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many years ago before smart phones - we gave a demonstration to display web pages in a train carriage using a 2.4GHz line of sight ethernet relay along the platform.

    It was fairly obvious that a lot of track side infrastructure would be needed to support it in practice. The only apparently feasible system at that time was the 433MHz network for small data packets like credit card checks.

    Boys toys fun - we had a train supplied for us to use for the day.

  4. davenewman

    For electric trains how about IP over the power lines?

    1. TRT Silver badge

      IP over the power lines

      You might get a nasty shock. It jumps back up the stream, you see, looking for a path to earth.

  5. LDS Silver badge
    Devil

    "he median desktop page consumes 1709.4KB"

    Of which 1700KB are ads and their tracking/telemetry code. Probably some good ads and tracking blockers will make those 50MB last much more.

    It's also difficult to blame train companies for Windows 10 tracking, telemetry and updates bulimia.

    Yet, but foreigners on expensive roaming plans, who uses "free wifi" today?

  6. Peter 26

    Time to dream up solutions

    I turn off WiFi on the train as it is next to useless. With my free time I dream up personal windows suction mounted antennas, tethered to your phone somehow that you can use to boost your signal. I have yet to figure out the details on how that would actually work. Maybe I need another train journey to continue the dream.

    1. Dr_N Silver badge

      Re: Time to dream up solutions

      In the good old days phones had external antenna connectors. Very useful in cars when passing through weak signal areas.

      The last one I saw was a Samsung Galaxy S4. But you had to cut a hole in the back over to access it.

      1. wyatt

        Re: Time to dream up solutions

        (takes the back off of a to hand S4) oh yeah so there is!

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Time to dream up solutions

        >In the good old days phones had external antenna connectors.

        You can still purchase Broadband dongles that support external antenna's, but homework is needed as often you need a specific variant (ie. not the over-the-counter UK variant)...

      3. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Time to dream up solutions

        Some 3G/4G USB dongles have external antenna ports, usually a CRC9 (aka TS-5) connector. (eg)

        As long as you don't get a really rubbish aerial they can work quite well, once you've spent the time getting the aerial in the right spot.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "once you've spent the time getting the aerial in the right spot"

          Is the required alignment/location likely to change if the train moves significantly?

          1. the Jim bloke Silver badge

            Re: "once you've spent the time getting the aerial in the right spot"

            relax,

            the train wont move much

            1. Fading

              Re: "once you've spent the time getting the aerial in the right spot"

              Ahh someone else on a Govia/Thameslink run line. I can confirm the trains have not been running much at all lately......

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "very useful in cars when passing through weak signal areas."

        Some cars do offer signal booster using the external antenna - usually as a paid option...

  7. Martin an gof Silver badge

    The joys of "market forces"

    As with many infrastructure projects, things like this just don't react well to market forces. Take the initial ADSL rollout. The local authority where I live actually paid BT to "enable" every exchange in the area back in the early 2000s. If they hadn't done that, we'd probably still be waiting for some of them - and this isn't an out-of-the-way rural idyll, this is the heavily-populated South Wales Valleys.

    30 year old Pacers? We still have a few down here too, alongside a lot of Sprinters which are marginally better (at least they have bogies!) but just as old (the newest ones were built in 1987 according to Wikipedia). Market forces and short(ish) term franchises mean there's no incentive for one incumbent to buy new stock, and then hand them over if they lose the franchise in the next round. East Coast Main Line anyone?

    In the Valleys there has also been the added problem of will they / won't they electrify, not just on the main line but also on the valleys lines.

    Finally the Welsh Assembly has made a decision and is forming some kind of partnership with the next francisee of the Wales and Borders to upgrade everything. Under this scheme all Pacers are to be withdrawn next year (woo hoo!) but Sprinters will still be with us until 2022 (I think - can't look it up now as the ADSL line I'm using is currently running at 250kbit/s).

    Looking forward to not seeing toilet waste between the tracks at my local stations.

    M.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: The joys of "market forces"

      Market forces and short(ish) term franchises mean there's no incentive for one incumbent to buy new stock, and then hand them over if they lose the franchise in the next round

      Virgin said this multiple times: Make the franchise longer and we'd invest more money.

      I believe this is one of the many issues that Southern encountered. They took over a franchise which had too few drivers as the previous company stopped training drives as they knew they weren't going to get its renewal.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: The joys of "market forces"

        Virgin said this multiple times: Make the franchise longer and we'd invest more money

        The new scheme in Wales involves several interesting "innovations". Firstly, the lines will be looked after by a local entity (i.e. not Network Rail, except for the main line), secondly the rolling stock will be owned by (effectively) the Welsh Government (via arms-length not-for-profit Transport for Wales) which takes away much of the franchise-rollover pressure. I think they took a few hints from Transport for London :-)

        Found the timeline. Or at least, a version of it. It's on p13 if this 43 page PDF.

        M.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The joys of "market forces"

          The new scheme in Wales involves several interesting "innovations". Firstly, the lines will be looked after by a local entity (i.e. not Network Rail, except for the main line), secondly the rolling stock will be owned by (effectively) the Welsh Government

          Well, let's see if they can do things better than the last state owned approach to railways. Given the shit state of the Welsh road system, every aspect of which is for all practical purposes under state control, I'm not optimistic of any real improvement in rail.

          I'm particularly touched by the concept of "arms-length, not for profit Transport for Wales". So it isn't subsidised, and it's going to do the right thing for passengers because it doesn't have a commercial motive? Mmmm, what's that smell? I think its the smell of state-appointed sinecures, garnished with vast bonuses tied to KPIs decided by the appointees and their mates.

          1. old_iron

            Re: The joys of "market forces"

            TfW - there's a guy in London who could take ultimate responsibility, give him a call when he becomes available

    2. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: The joys of "market forces"

      I quite like the old carriages, at least you get a bit of space / leg room, new carriages on some of the trains where I live are massively claustrophobic and cramped - presumably to squeeze in a few more (over)paying customers.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The joys of "market forces"

        "new carriages on some of the trains where I live are massively claustrophobic and cramped - presumably to squeeze in a few more (over)paying customers."

        They'd be squeezed in anyway. The issue is providing seating.

    3. old_iron

      Re: The joys of "market forces"

      Some of your tunnels in the valleys are too short

      Even Brunel didn't think of pantagraphs for GWR

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: The joys of "market forces"

        Some of your tunnels in the valleys are too short

        Even Brunel didn't think of pantagraphs for GWR

        On the Rhymney line they will be using "tri mode" trains, specifically to avoid having to electrify awkward sections. For example, the mile-long tunnel between Lisvane and Caerphilly stations will not have to be cabled, and the trains will run on (probably) battery for this section.

        Electrification of the main line hasn't been going too well, with recently installed equipment in the Severn Tunnel reportedly having to be replaced because it's rusted. Who'd a thunk?

        M.

  8. alain williams Silver badge

    50MB over what time ?

    50MB over a 1/2 hour journey might be parsimonious but doable for webmail email checking; but on a long 4 hour cross country intercity ... not at all.

    Oh - 50MB would do me fine for several hours: ssh and mutt don't use much.

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: 50MB over what time ?

      Well there's mosh which runs over ssh... and for some reasons at least some pre-paid carriers even allowed you to use that if you had no money on your account.

      In any case, what's nice about the system used in German ICE trains is that you get a local copy of OpenStreetmap with an indication where your train is.

      1. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

        Re: 50MB over what time ?

        virgin ecml's wifi sign on page used to have tiny map and speedo display, lner may have carried this over?

  9. Disgruntled of TW
    FAIL

    Broken information ...

    ... when the train stops in the middle of nowhere, means a quick GoogleMaps check uses your 50MB in under 2 mins. This has *nothing* to do with "sharing the bandwidth". Restricting the throughput of individual flows from a single MAC address would do that. Enforcing a fixed data allowance per MAC login is quite a different thing. Saying that "only" 25% of users hit this is jaw dropping - one QUARTER of your users have their internet broken in a matter of minutes and this is "not an issue"?

    Train companies meeting my expectations I'm afraid. If I could, I would vote with my feet, but they know a captive commuter market when they see one and its too far to run into London. My 4G works 34.2% of my journey. I basically download everything important before I hit the train. Sad.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Broken information ...

      I can check where I am using 0 bytes - my map application uses a downloaded local map and GPS.... but as long as people like to let Google know every move they make, and every breathe they take...

  10. iron Silver badge

    The project kicked off in December 2016

    Pretty sure I was using WiFi on west coast main line trains over 10 years ago. Did the government only just catch up or is this story about southern train networks only?

  11. boltar Silver badge

    Built in the age of steam?

    FTA:

    "Up until the train plunges into a tunnel built in the age of steam, of course."

    I hate to break the news to you Mr Speed (surely thats a pseudonym?) , but a tunnel is a tunnel - they're big long holes in the ground. That doesn't change whether it was build 150 years ago or last week and being underground has this funny habit of cutting off radio signals. Thats right, physics hasn't changed either in 150 years. Now you can put repeaters in the tunnel but that costs money , and where do you think this money is going to come from? Thats right, the already sky high ticket prices.

    1. LisaJK

      Re: Built in the age of steam?

      Mobile phone and radio signals still seem to work in German tunnels, whether rail or road, not to mention that the trains go faster, they have more of them, they are cheaper to use and the cars are often allowed to go faster, except in tunnels!

      Maybe they have different soil, or wait, maybe they do something rather radical... actually invest in technology!!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Built in the age of steam?

        Actually, it may depend on the age of the tunnel. It may be harder to retrofit a very old tunnel with little space available with all the technology needed to keep signal available inside. It's far easier with newer tunnels.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Built in the age of steam?

          "It may be harder to retrofit a very old tunnel with little space available with all the technology needed to keep signal available inside."

          There are always the frequent safety niches for rail workers - and signalling cabling already has to be carried through a tunnel?

  12. Fursty Ferret

    Quite frustrating to find that on a recent train journey my EE phone connected to the train's own 4G picocell(?) instead of hopping along between masts. Naturally the connection was either throttled or overloaded - or both.

    How hard can it be?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: hopping along between masts

      "Quite frustrating to find that on a recent train journey my EE phone connected to the train's own 4G picocell(?) instead of hopping along between masts."

      Quite hard, actually. Talk to people who know how cellphone handover works at motorway speeds (sometimes it's a miracle it works at all, let alone at motorway speeds - as 3G performance in recent years on my UK travels has frequently illustrated).

      Are there any good Dummies Guides to the topic around for those new to the subject?

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: hopping along between masts

        Quite hard, actually.

        Really? I thought GSM (2G) was designed to work well at speeds of up to 150mph and that later standards have improved on that?

        M.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: hopping along between masts

          "I thought GSM (2G) was designed to work well at speeds of up to 150mph and that later standards have improved on that?"

          Citation(s) welcome - someone did ask earlier about "dummies guides" to this kind of thing but contributions haven't arrived yet. Perhaps they're on D Train.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXl7f757gqI

          No not like that classic, more like this somewhat delayed classic:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Class_230

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: hopping along between masts

            "I thought GSM (2G) was designed to work well at speeds of up to 150mph and that later standards have improved on that?"

            Citation(s) welcome

            That's why I asked the question.

            Ok, so I've just spent my lunchtime looking. There doesn't seem to be an easy answer, mainly because GSM (2G) and later protocols are adaptive - they can alter various transmission parameters depending on the state of the radio link. There are several issues; there's the absolute distance from the base station - this applies to all mobile terminals and the standards have defined parameters which limit the physical size of a cell.

            There's doppler shift - if the distance between the mobile unit and the base station is varying (the ultimate case, of course, being a mobile heading directly towards or away from a base), again standards have defined parameters which allow a certain range of frequency shifts before everything fails.

            These two seem (if I've read the standards correctly) to be at least partly adaptive by varying the transmission parameters, trading off robustness for capacity of both the individual link and of the cell as a whole.

            There is also the "network overhead"; that is the time it takes to handover a call from one cell to the next and the amount of data that must be passed around the network in order to do so. If the cells are close together and if the mobile station is moving tangentially relative to the cells there are some circumstances where the overhead of handoff becomes too great for the network to handle and calls might be dropped.

            However, finding a simple reference which puts simple numbers to these parameters has been somewhat difficult. Anecdotally, most people have little or no trouble making calls from trains in areas with good coverage. Trains in the UK operate at up to 190mph(ish) though more normally at 140mph or less. Anecdotally there are also reports of passengers making successful calls from aircraft, below a certain altitude anyway.

            One slightly-relevant reference I've found is this PDF which explains GSM-R. GSM-R is effectively standard GSM with some parameters "tweaked" (and some security enhancements) to make it more usable for rail. Some of those parameters affect the maximum speed at which the system works, and GSM-R is specified for speeds of up to 500km/h (310mph). That document is linked from this web page which explains the rationale behind GSM-R. There is also this overview (PDF) of the situation regarding a successor technology, which claims that with some tweaking LTE could be made to operate at 500km/h (see, for example, footnotes on p44).

            Without reading (and understanding) all the specs it's a bit difficult to be more specific. Some more information might be gleaned from: A comparison of GSM-R and TETRA though this appears to have been written by someone with an axe to grind.

            Phew! That was a busy Friday lunch break.

            M.

  13. Code Dinosaur
    Coat

    Only One Website

    Only one web-site is required when traveling by train & that is realtimetrains.co.uk, all other sites should be throttled automatically to 300 baud to discourage those who can't live without streaming or arsebooking.

    1. really_adf

      Re: Only One Website

      Also useful, depending on where you travel: http://www.opentraintimes.com/maps

  14. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    Bah. Ya buncha whiners.

    Back in MY day we had to climb atop the train & do our own smoke signals. Talk about a right pain in the arse. When they upgraded to carrier pigeons we were happy as pigs in slop... right up until you were facin the wrong way to shelter the bird as ya flung it into the air, got whacked on the back of the head by the tunnel overhead, & ended up swallowin the damned bird as ya landed sprawled atop the carriage. You would wake up hours later, mouth full o' feathers, & had to go get another bird from the conductor. Charged ya a mint, too. We tried doin' the job from inside a car & releasin' the little blighter out th' window, but it always seemed that would be the very moment ya passed a tree & turned ya bird into a puff of swirlin' feathers. Charged us for replacements then, too. Bastards.

    You kids with yer newfangled wifey an' sell-fonez complainin' 'bout piss poor signals.

    *Shakes a palsied fist*

    Danged whippersnappers! Get off'n my traaaaain!

    *Cough*

    I'll get my coat, it's the one with my dried frog pills in the pocket.

  15. bigphil9009

    Franchising Works!

    On GNER... sorry, I mean ECML... sorry, I mean Virgin Trains EC... sorry, I mean LNER, one gets 15mins free WiFi before having to stump up (unless you buy from your ticket from their website, which isn't so good for us season ticket holders!). However, a quick change of MAC soon sorts that...

  16. a_mu

    Wifi, till there are problems on the line.

    We have a few problems on the trains into London "at the moment"

    So far I have 100 % correlation between is there even a wifi signal to connect to and is the train going to have problems.

    No wifi signal on board, were in for a bad trip,,,

  17. Killfalcon Silver badge

    It's nice to see a story that says "[WiFi application] is slow" and not "[Wifi application] sells your bank account to the mafia." The market's making progress!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get off my lawn

    "A 1990s level of 0.5Mbps"

    Lucky you if you had that back in the 1990s, or maybe you forget how slow things really were back then!

    512kbps sounds- and is- slow compared to most broadband connections nowadays, but I (along with anyone on regular dial-up, i.e. the vast majority of people accessing the Internet via a personal connection) would have killed for it during the late 90s. 56kbps was- and remains- the fastest you could get with a dial-up modem, and even that only arrived circa 1997!

    Even ISDN was only 64kbps over a single phone line (128 if you doubled up).

    Yes, of course there would have been a few users on early broadband services around the turn of the millennium getting 512kbps, but that was still a good speed for broadband circa 2004.

    I love it when some tail-end millennial pops up on Reddit and informs us that their family's Internet connection back when they were in middle school- or somesuch American shite- was only 2 Mbps, expecting "us" to agree that, oh my god, that's so slow, how did "we" ever survive on that. (Well, to be fair, the typical Reddit user *is* around the same age).

    Never mind that even a ludicrously slow (by modern standards) 1980s modem would have been the stuff of dreams when I was the same age and I feel myself wanting to do a "Four Yorkshiremen". :-)

    All that said, I do agree 100% that a 50MB "allowance" is ludicrously small by modern standards.

    1. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Re: Get off my lawn

      As I discovered after a 12-hour flight back in 2016, assisted by EE's roaming allowance, a modern smart phone can eat 25mb in 20 seconds just turning on.

      They texted me saying "your phone is abroad! would you like to buy 25mb of data" (I forget the price, but it was 10-20 quid, I think), and me, being an eejit, thought that they surely wouldn't offer a useless amount, went with it, turned data back on and it was gone.

  19. Salestard

    Imagine my surprise when...

    As a very long time sufferer of Southern, GTR, and all the various permutations since BR, I was genuinely astounded to note a Wi-Fi Onboard sticker on the brand spankers new Siemens thing into London Bridge the other morning.

    Actual wireless telegraphy on an actual train just into service! Only a mere decade or so after I remember using it on a forty year old repainted Intercity 125 to Brizzel from Paddington!

    Much less of a surprise was the fact that it looks like GTR think putting a sticker on your train makes the Wi-Fi magically appear.

    There was no Wi-Fi.

    Then the train was terminated at, funnily enough, Haywards Heath for reasons not explained, but almost certainly down to a chronic shortage of trained management.

  20. Christopher Slater-Walker

    Five years ago I went on a business trip to South Korea. I took a train from Seoul to Busan, right in the South. There was fast WiFi throughout the whole journey, besides the fact that the trains could do up to 300Kmh.

    Of course this was done with trackside equipment, not by messing about with mobile phone infrastructure. It can be done; it just needs the will to do it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It can be done; it just needs the willmoney to do it.

      FTFY.

  21. Simon Rockman

    Maybe it's deliberate

    If data coverage - mobile and wifi - was better on trains, more people would use them.

    And the last thing the rammed train system needs is more passengers.

    Simon

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Like that other literal convenience that is rapidly disappearing. In 2007 there was a nice public information map in Crystal Palace. Looked useful - as the station toilets were padlocked shut in the afternoon. It showed three public toilets in the area.

    One was a derelict shell. The other had long since disappeared under a supermarket. The third existed in a park - but was only open in the summer months.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Like that other literal convenience that is rapidly disappearing.

      As part of the upgrade of the Wales railways I previously mentioned, some lines are to get "tram trains". These will not have onboard toilets, but that's ok because all stations on those routes will have upgraded toilet facilities and the last train each day will timetable a toilet break! (do a search for "on-board toilets" and read on)

      M.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        The trains on the New Guildford Line* to London are like that too.

        *opened in 1885

      2. old_iron

        The GWR Reading to Gatwick service often has a single crapper which, when out of service, necessitates a toilet stop at Guildford...

  23. Slacker@work

    50MB?? Luxury!

    This morning I had the dubious pleasures of the Arriva Trains Wales service between Manchester and Cardiff. The Allowance was 20MB and lasted a whole 5 minutes! After that the connection was so poor that I just gave up - so much for enabling a mobile workforce!

  24. Nick 65

    Not like they're short on backhaul

    So as I understand it Network Rail splooged lots of cash on lots of glass a few years ago, according to various articles on the network they called FTNx, with 100Gbps rings.

    Surely they can spare some bit of that to backhaul the on-train wifi? Mind you, handing off a trainload of connections at 100mph between access points would be an interesting challenge.

    https://www.railengineer.uk/2015/08/12/uk-railway-telecommunications-2015-update/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not like they're short on backhaul

      That's quite an enlightening article, nice to see it referenced.

      Interesting to note also that the "joined up picture" approach is/was being pioneered in Scotland. South of the border, "invest" hasn't recently been considered a good word amongst the bean counters - just ask (e.g.) Carillion's staff and suppliers :(

      "NRT chose Cisco, via its partner Telefónica, to design and deliver FTNx."

      Oh. Nothing's perfect, I suppose.

    2. old_iron

      Re: Not like they're short on backhaul

      Who has the second biggest network in the country?

      Yup, NR

  25. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I'd be glad

    If they took the fareday cage concept further and used it to block all mobile signals in and out of the train.

    At least I'd be able to snooze away quietly without 40 demented morons shouting "I'm in the train" every 30 seconds .......

  26. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    The Politician, In the library, with the withdrawal.

    There's a paper, a promise, a fine and they still couldn't spend all the money outside the microwave zone. Guess what, every centre of urban degradation has a correlation. It's a long straight line, with power, but you'll need a compass. #wheresboris #hidingunderribblehead

  27. Gene Cash Silver badge

    SPRINT

    One of the US cell network providers is called Sprint, because it started out as Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Network Telecommunications, where it had fiber optic cable laid along all the rail lines.

    Why can't that be done here?

    1. Tromos
      Joke

      Re: SPRINT

      It can be done. 'Connected Rail And Wireless Lan' is the proposed supplier.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: SPRINT

      The UK had its own "fiber optic cable laid along all the rail lines." which at one time was owned by the piece of BR known as BR Signal and Telecom.

      The miracle of privatisation saw it flogged off and the rest is history. Read it (e.g. [1]) and weep.

      Tell Sid, almost every piece of English infrastructure he used to own (and control) has been flogged off by a bunch of greedy spivs for the benefit of a bunch of greedy people. Slightly different rules appear to apply in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and indeed in much of the EU.

      Where can I buy a pitchfork, November 5th's too far away.

      [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Telecommunications

      "British Rail Telecommunications was created in 1992 by British Rail (BR). It was the largest private telecoms network in Britain, consisting of 17,000 route kilometres of fibre optic and copper cable which connected every major city and town in the country and provided links to continental Europe through the Channel Tunnel.[1]

      BR also operated its own national trunked radio network, providing dedicated train-to-shore mobile communications, and in the early 1980s BR helped establish Mercury Communications’ (now C&WC) core infrastructure by laying a resilient figure-of-eight fibre optic network alongside Britain’s railway lines, spanning London, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

      Realising the enormous commercial potential, BR Telecommunications Limited (BRT) was created in 1992 to exploit its wayleave rights and to take responsibility for the management and maintenance of the industry’s voice, data and radio networks associated with the operational running of the railway and its business needs.

      BRT was bought by Racal Electronics in 1995 and became Racal-BRT. This merged with Racal Network Services (RNS) in 1997 to become Racal Telecom. Two companies, Thales Translink and Thales Fieldforce, evolved from Racal Telecom in 1999 and were merged into Thales Telecommunications Services (TTS) in April 2002. TTS provides specialist telecoms services to the UK transport market. "

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SPRINT

        "[...] for the benefit of a bunch of greedy people."

        Margaret Thatcher believed that flogging "the family silver"*** to the general public would give them the feeling of a stake in a shareholder economy. That they then cashed in immediately - and did not use it to fund charitable good works - spoiled her expectation of a return to Victorian "trickle down" philanthropy.

        All she did was fuel a "get rich quick" society of chancers that are still with us today.

        ***the accusation was from a previous Tory PM - Harold MacMillan. He was responsible for the boom in government financed social housing in the 1950s.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: SPRINT

          "spoiled her expectation of a return to Victorian "trickle down" philanthropy."

          She had a religious worldview which was unsupported by reality.

          "All she did was fuel a "get rich quick" society of chancers that are still with us today."

          The Victorian era (and preceeding ones) was just as full of chancers (if not more so). The reason the UK HAD the structures in place to prevent them taking over in the way they have since 1979 was in no small part due to the efforts of a lot of those philanthropists and others, trying to ensure that society was fairer.

          Certain political groups would like to see a return to Victorian values. As those included 30-50 murders per DAY in London alone, 12-20 foot walls topped with broken glass and razor wire and the rich cowering in fear of being torn apart by the poor, I'd suggest they may want to rethink those plans.

  28. HWwiz

    Its just a 4G Router.

    The trains, along with some buses & coaches all use ProRoute H820 routers.

    Ive personally replaced a few in trains. They generally have one large OMNI 12dbi antenna, and the routers feed Aerohive wifi AP's.

    They do struggle though when you have 150+ clients attached all reading faceache and mail online.

  29. fwadman

    Bankwidth is free .. web is too big

    Seriously … 500 kps is tons of bandwidth .. and it's free!

    The problem is that a single web page is over 1MB but contains approx. 1KB or useful content … My browser is showing me that it made 37 connections to load content on this page. WTF ????

  30. MortimerTheCat

    As someone who needs to catch up to 4 trains on their morning commute, I spend most of my journey monitoring online which trains are running late or cancelled. Wifi is very important for me, approaching East Croydon my phone hits a large blackspot at a crucial decision time. If I get it wrong, I am stranded at West Norwood for half an hour. So I switch to the train wifi, doesn't always work, hopefully to get the data I need for my decision of which train to get next

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      " If I get it wrong, I am stranded at West Norwood for half an hour."

      There are worse places to be stranded.... Bognor for instance.

      "So I switch to the train wifi, doesn't always work,"

      Train wifi runs on 4G, you're using 4G. If you hit a blackspot, what makes you think the train service is going to be any better?

  31. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  32. stevebp

    Most ill-conceived idea yet?

    GIven that WiFi on trains is pointless unless you're trying to work (usually on a laptop) and require a seat to do so, to have those two rare events coincide on one overcrowded commuter journey is just stretching coincidence a little too far! I'd just settle for the train to arrive (maybe even on time would be nice) and there be some seats.

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