Gigabit WiFi train for your commute to work arrives. Soon. Or not anytime soon. Which one is it?
Poor signal quality for calls, data and mobile broadband poses serious obstacles for commuters who want to work and passengers who like to enjoy their train journey – but that is all about to change.
Government plans announced this month reveal plans to install more mobile masts and fiber optic cables – the kind that provide your home broadband – along rail lines across the country.
The proposals could allow hundreds of passengers on board to simultaneously stream 4K video.
If that sounds a bit far-fetched, please indulge us.
Gigabit free Wi-Fi is the holy grail for commuters, with upload and download speeds approaching 1 Gbps, massive bandwidth, and zero lag.
At the end of 2017, ministers admitted that mobile broadband capacity on major UK roads and railways was far too intermittent.
The logic is that as Brexit hits, large UK infrastructure projects will benefit from more government time due to the huge gains in worker productivity and the likelihood of being able to invite foreign investment from countries outside of Europe.
As always with government announcements, it’s best not to hope too much.
And buried in the press release is the mea culpa that this will not happen BEFORE 2025.
Why is train WiFi so bad in the UK?
Mobile broadband for train passengers is mainly produced by the four major UK mobile phone networks: EE, O2, Vodafone and Three, operating from mobile masts away from train lines.
This means that coverage is often patchy and in many places non-existent.
Anywhere the signal is generally weak – in rural areas, in the valleys or in parts of the UK far from major cities, the train’s WiFi is also generally terrible.
To increase connectivity to a level where we could actually see gigabit train WiFi, companies would have to dig new channels to run fiber optic cables along tracks and near tunnels, or mount small 4G cells. / 5G on masts next to the train line.
By then we may well have a Labor government led by Jeremy Corbyn, the man who wants to renationalize the railways. Gigabit Train WiFi seems more of a dream than a probability under these circumstances.
Nonetheless, if there are profits to be made and massive government contracts worth several million pounds to bid on, you can guarantee that private companies will want a share of the action.
In Scotland, network provider Cisco is working on the Swift project, a trial for rapidly increase Scotrail WiFi up to 300 Mbps.
Scottish commuters have faced years of struggle to connect to WiFi on the way, with the rail company bleating its service supposedly for regular passengers “to check Facebook and Twitter” rather than people actually working .
But now new masts are being erected along the route between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the project continues until March 2018.
Ministers are also considering future-proof mobile broadband and trains to pave the way for 5G, the fastest and latest version of 4G.
Work is underway on a pilot project for TransPennine Express between Manchester Piccadilly and York.
This is apparently part of a £ 31bn national investment fund, which has earmarked £ 1bn for Britain’s ‘digital connectivity’.
The Department of Transport is calling for evidence to ask companies to tell them how to best use the resources already available to initiate this.
And while Network Rail already has trackside fiber optic along parts of the rail network, it promises to open up fiber, underground conduits, masts, and electricity where the Gigabit Wi-Fi network could. be installed.