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Mobile broadband improvements for rail travellers during 2015
Monday 30 September 2013 17:44:42 by Andrew Ferguson

It seems that improvements are on the way to mobile calls and broadband infrastructure for rail passengers. The Department of Transport (DoT) has announced plans to improve broadband infrastructure on the rail network, which should see 70% of the travelling public benefit by 2019, with the first improvements noticeable in 2015.

The programme is aiming to tackle the many not-spots that are either gaps in the existing commercial mast network, or the topography of the rail network, e.g. tunnels/cuttings makes wireless reception difficult. There appears to be no firm commitment on the level of funding that will be spent, as the DoT talks about working on a business case for the improvements.

Interestingly while the DoT is talking about the business case, the BBC is suggesting that the improvements will be part of a £1.9 billion programme by Network Rail that is already underway to improve fixed and mobile communications on the network. Reading the BBC article we are assuming that Network Rail is looking at open femtocell technology to improve signal reception in carriages, and improving speeds for Wi-Fi access in carriages.

The figures of 192,000 Gigabit per second are touted as something the new network will be capable of, which when you look at the trend over the last decade for traffic flowing through LINX, which is hitting a maximum of around 1700 Gbps and while it is climbing (400 Gbps 3 years ago) there looks to be no need for the need for capacity of 192,000 Gbps. In short, do not get the idea that a train ticket will be the way to enjoy a network running at a 1 Gbps in the next few years. What many will not know is that the CCTV, signalling, information and security systems mean that the comms infrastructure for the rail network comprises the largest private telecoms network in the UK.

For those who oppose the HS2 project, the cost benefit analysis for these improvements may be interesting, as it may show how productive train journeys can be given a table to work on and access to power and Internet connectivity and potentially undermine the spending to reduce journey times between by 25 minutes from London to Birmingham.


Posted by Dixinormous over 3 years ago
Well this is interesting. As the last paragraph says a good part of the business case for HS2 is based on the assumption that people don't do any work on trains.

Not that it matters. Politicians have never paid attention to the facts anyway and will just follow their 'convictions'.
Posted by pcoventry76 over 3 years ago
I bet the ticket prices go up a few times before then..
Posted by Zebsy over 3 years ago
I regularly travel up the East Coast line from London to Newcastle. I work on the train and need internet connectivity, so use a 3G Mifi. It's surprisingly good really, but there are a few drop outs during the 3 hour journey.
So completely reliable broadband for the whole journey would be great for me.
How much are they going to charge for it, though?

And remember HS2 is about capacity, not speed. Would we be happier if they built a new non-high-speed line and saved a few billion?
Posted by Dixinormous over 3 years ago
I would be far happier personally Zebsy if they actually listened to experts rather than vested interests and pursued a balanced and integrated transport strategy but that would require a government to consider evidence based policies which is a ridiculous idea.

I'm sure Mr Coventry ticket prices will go up. Network Rail are 30-40% less efficient than their peers in Europe but government are too busy picking fights with our relatively high quality teachers to deal with the low quality rail union protected Network Rail.
Posted by pcoventry76 over 3 years ago
@zebsy do you do your work on the train or do you actually work on the train for the train company? If it's the latter you should have access to it anyway.

@Dixi - They will always find a way to put them up. I rarely use the trains but when I do i resent how high they are. Considering they will be buying cheap red diesel in massive bulk their PPL will be very very low.
Posted by Zebsy over 3 years ago

Lord Adonis seems to know what he's talking about and is a big supporter of HS2?
Or is there contrary expert advice out there? Send me some links if you have them, I am interested in reading around it.

PS I work on the train on my way to the company office in Newcastle. I don't work for the train company. I do find I get quite a bit done as long as I get a table. Aren't the tables slightly too small to fit more than about 2 people's laptops on them, though - grrr ;].
Posted by jrawle over 3 years ago
What use is fast internet on the train if you are rammed into carriages cheek-to-jowl with other passengers? Who cares about the size of the table if you are standing in the aisle or vestibule? Extra capacity is needed, and there would be little saving in building a non-HS line.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Can't say I've used the London to Birmingham route much, but is that line as overcrowded as suburban services in London? As in people with season tickets often find they stand all the way from Victoria to Brighton at peak times.
Posted by otester over 3 years ago

Not all of us travel in peasant class, hence the usual free WiFi in 1st class.
Posted by otester over 3 years ago

Pretty much like the voters that elect them...
Posted by Gadget over 3 years ago
Not to mention the security risk of having everyone looking over your shoulder or by your side - I believe a lot of companies have some sort of security consideration for working in trains, planes, airports & service stations
Posted by dalgibbard over 3 years ago
Connection drop outs are one thing; but the technology needs to move on *substantially* before even bothering with coverage- for example when passing through Stratford, I'll happily have a full 5 bars, HSDPA, every day; and yet be able to do absolutely nothing.

Not a lot of point in coverage, if the back-end doesn't deliver! Makes me wonder how well a Wifi service on a train of ~250+ minimum connected users would work.
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