Despite government promises, 22 percent of UK trains still don’t have Wi-Fi
A pre-election promise by UK officials for high-speed Wi-Fi train connectivity appears to fall short. A new study shows that 22 percent of U.K. trains don’t offer Wi-Fi – and nearly half of the trains that are connected charge passengers to use it.
The study, conducted by online booking site GoEuro, showed that out of the 150 most popular UK train routes, 63 offer free Wi-Fi, 54 offer Wi-Fi at a cost, and 33 offer no Wi-Fi at all. According to the UK National Rail’s website, some commuters pay up to £300 per month to access Wi-Fi on board.
The trouble with trains
Wi-Fi on trains is a growing industry, but also a tricky one. To get a great Wi-Fi signal, it’s important to have a great line of sight for backhaul transmission. That’s why a lot of radio base stations are on hilltops or atop big buildings. That isn’t possible on a fast-moving train, where reflective metal surfaces, tunnels, and changing elevation is the norm.
Still, the growing demand has forced new innovation that allows for high-speed access on trains – even in remote areas. Virgin’s train UK train service provides Wi-Fi via a series of wireless access points throughout the train. The onboard Wi-Fi connects to both satellite and mobile networks for backhaul. Virgin’s service is free for first-class passengers and costs up to £30 per month for standard class.
Even when you do pay, the system isn’t perfect. According to Virgin’s website, “As the train whizzes along at 125mph, the signal strength can change a lot as it goes through rural areas where the coverage isn’t very good, which means you might experience a momentary cut in your connection. There are also some things we can’t change, such as going through tunnels, which are a classic Wi-Fi killer,” Virgin says.
Big plans go off the rails
In 2014 the UK government announced a £50m investment to prevent signal disruption in trains across England and Wales. But according to a November article in The Guardian, that plan went “off the rails,” when it was announced that the minimum required speed would start at 1Mbps per passenger and would increase at only 25 percent per year.
So much for high speed.
To see which UK trains offer Wi-Fi, click here.