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3G/4G/WiFi coverage on train routes

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mrmartin

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Going to use the WCML as the example here as I know the route the best.

What is going on with providing better data coverage on these routes? In the franchise commitment Virgin Trains said they would provide free wifi powered by 4G, announced in June 2014, but have posted no news beyond tweets saying it is due to lack of lineside facilities by NR.

This must have one of the best economic cost:benefit ratio. I can work really well on the train (assuming I have a seat, but that's a different story), if I have usable wifi, 3g or 4g. For at least half the route on Vodafone that isn't the story. To use DfTs value of time working it looks like £30/hr is a rough figure. Times that by passengers, and a %age that are there on business and 2 hours and it quickly becomes £100millions+.

AFIAK Network Rail have fibre optic deployed down all the routes, and there is power. These are by far the hardest things to get installed to get base stations in.

What is going on here? What is the huge holdup? This should be a huge priority for NR, it seems like very low hanging fruit in terms of benefit vs something like HS2.
 
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Flamingo

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We only run the trains. We don't run the phone companies as well...
 

Starmill

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Chiltern got some equipment installed in several Tunnels according to Railnews a while back. EE did it I believe. The question I wondered on was did that provide data service to all of EE's customers, or just Chiltern Railways?
 

gsnedders

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We only run the trains. We don't run the phone companies as well...

Especially on long-distance routes, I can imagine internet connectivity being a reason for business travellers to choose the train over plane (at least until BA, FlyBe, EasyJet, etc. start offering wifi on domestic flights). That then turns into increased fare revenue, which turns into increased profit for the ToC…
 

Carlisle

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Especially on long-distance routes, I can imagine internet connectivity being a reason for business travellers to choose the train over plane (at least until BA, FlyBe, EasyJet, etc. start offering wifi on domestic flights). That then turns into increased fare revenue, which turns into increased profit for the ToC…

Yes I'm sure it's practical and affordable for TOCs to install modern wifi systems that work off the existing mobile networks and satellite but any plans for a brand new system for rail routes will probably take Network rail several years to actually plan, install and fully commission
 
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najaB

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The Telcos build their network to serve the maximum number of subscribers with the smallest possible number of base stations. Unfortunately for rail passengers, railway lines were generally built to provide transport from one location where there are a lot of people to another location where there are a lot of people, through areas where there aren't a lot of people.

So providing coverage of railways isn't a priority for them.
 

route:oxford

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I can work really well on the train (assuming I have a seat, but that's a different story), if I have usable wifi, 3g or 4g. For at least half the route on Vodafone that isn't the story. To use DfTs value of time working it looks like £30/hr is a rough figure. Times that by passengers, and a %age that are there on business and 2 hours and it quickly becomes £100millions+.

If you can't work if you're not connected, then you aren't worth £30/hr.
 

BanburyBlue

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I always find this interesting. The mobile network providers originally built up their networks based on what coverage they wanted. So large cities, main roads etc first. I never understood why no effort seemingly was made to provide coverage on the railways, and why for some reason the mobile providers believe it's down to NR? The mobile companies get the revenue, not the train companies (unless they charge for wifi).

I sort of assume it is because railways are difficult to cover, cuttings, tunnels etc? But by now you would have thought good coverage should be had on the majority of main lines?
 

Flamingo

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One of the worst stretches for coverage (on O2, anyway) is Reading to London. High population density, flat, I can never see any reason for this.
 

theageofthetra

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The problem is UK NIMBYS continually blocking planning applications for new masts. Our data coverage is abysmal compared to many countries I have travelled to. My favorite example was a Chinese tourist able to live stream his semi submersible trip to his mate back home using mobile data off a great barrier reef island.
 

miami

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Wcml is abysmal on virgin, far better on London midland. Make of that what you will.
 

civ-eng-jim

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This must have one of the best economic cost:benefit ratio.

If NR are paying the cost and passengers on trains are getting the benefit then yes, it has an incredibly good BCR.....for passengers.

What is going on here? What is the huge holdup? This should be a huge priority for NR, it seems like very low hanging fruit in terms of benefit vs something like HS2.

However, I'm not sure how Network Rail would see any return on this investment. It won't reduce their maintenance costs, it won't facilitate additional train services and allow additional access charges to bring in revenue. If more people work on trains it benefits the companies they work for or "UK Plc" as a result of greater productivity. If better data coverage entices more to use the trains, the TOCs will benefit.

Could NR charge telecoms/mobile companies for using this proposed lineside infrastructure?

It would have to be a treasury or DfT initiative not a Network Rail one.

The same goes for HS2 - The UK taxpayers/government is making the investment and it is the UK taxpayers/government who will realise that return on investment in a way a private company never could.
 
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alexl92

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First TPE used to claim (3/4 years ago) that providing wifi on their trains simply wasn't possible because of all the hills and tunnels on the Transpennine Route. They're now working on providing it everywhere, I imagine because the technology has sufficiently improved to do so, but that could be a reason why the coverage on the railways has been so poor?
 

Andrewlong

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One of the worst stretches for coverage (on O2, anyway) is Reading to London. High population density, flat, I can never see any reason for this.

FGW have their own train wifi which you can try. Can be a bit flakey.

The line which is always rubbish is Reading to Waterloo say east of Bracknell. Given how posh the areas you pass through - the signal drops regularly. Thankfully SWT have introduced on train wifi.
 

Carlisle

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First TPE used to claim (3/4 years ago) that providing wifi on their trains simply wasn't possible because of all the hills and tunnels on the Transpennine Route. ?

A rather poor excuse from Trans Pennine, after all Scotrail managed to provide free wifi despite many considerably larger hills and more rural locations than TPE routes :D
 
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Merseysider

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mrmartin said:
What is going on with providing better data coverage on these routes? In the franchise commitment Virgin Trains said they would provide free wifi powered by 4G, announced in June 2014, but have posted no news beyond tweets saying it is due to lack of lineside facilities by NR.
They wouldn't want to devalue their First Class offering now would they? It is Virgin after all. /cynic
 

tellytype

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I've been pitching this to deaf ears at NR & TOCs for a while. Especially as some of the major IP transit providers run their fibre along the railway. The mobile networks frankly don't give a toss about coverage of high traffic routes these days - just drive down any of our major motorways or take a run along the ECML or WCML & see. M2 or M20 in Kent? Forget it. Anyway, most of them are in a joint venture & don't even own the network. Besides, they're just there to return shareholder profits, customers, as in most industries these days, are merely an inconvenience.

Proposal: A privately built, investor funded, backbone network which allows trains to back haul their onboard wifi at high speed, not the existing snail speed, to the Internet. They can charge as much as they like for the wifi, they pay us an acces charge per user, or per journey or something. Base stations colocated with GSMR infrastructure.

Benefit to NR? High speed connectivity all over the railway for its own workforce, not just S&T who have access to the right "plugs". Money from leasing space on their masts. Bingo!

Benefit to TOC: Revenues from wifi. Happier pax. IP connectivity for their own use - tills, communications, rostering, stock, live travel info etc.

The existing systems like Icomera et al just don't work very well & are essentially bolted together from old tech. Icomera themselves admitted as much to me back in 2011 when I was working with them on something else.

Spinoff of that is rural areas get high speed internet over wireless by way of repeaters.

IP transit providers are up for it, sounded out investment at an early stage, they seemed upbeat, but NR & the TOCs just ignored my emails or send on a wild goose chase to talk to a real human being.

But this is the UK in 2016....we couldn't possibly let someone with a good idea work with us without making it nigh on impossible, it's "not my job mate" & "not invented here" so get lost.......
 
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rf_ioliver

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I sort of assume it is because railways are difficult to cover, cuttings, tunnels etc? But by now you would have thought good coverage should be had on the majority of main lines?

One of the major problems is handling the handover of huge amounts of connections reliably and quickly. The problem then extends to the rerouting of traffic over the core networks.

100s of mobile devices (inc. dedicated connections from a train's Wifi-GSM/LTE/whatever) becomes a huge routing and latency issue.

Then, there's the issue of whether the infrastructure has been put in place by the operators in the first place...

t.

Ian
 

theageofthetra

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All of which works fine abroad. Have had booming 4g data in middle of nowhere in Finland. The third world mobile data provision in UK is entirely down to wealthy local NIMBYs objecting to new mast applications.
 

najaB

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Base stations colocated with GSMR infrastructure.
That makes it a complete non-starter, unfortunately. NR was able to bypass many planning restrictions because of 'permitted development rights' as GSMR was replacing existing systems which were end of life. The consequence of this is that the sites can only be used for operational purposes.

They have to go back and get planning permission if they want to use the sites for any commercial/non-operational purposes.
 

theageofthetra

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That makes it a complete non-starter, unfortunately. NR was able to bypass many planning restrictions because of 'permitted development rights' as GSMR was replacing existing systems which were end of life. The consequence of this is that the sites can only be used for operational purposes.

They have to go back and get planning permission if they want to use the sites for any commercial/non-operational purposes.

The planning restrictions are the biggest problem-particularly in rural/wealthy areas and why we have the worst mobile data coverage of many developed nations (and many allegedly undeveloped ones)
 

najaB

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The planning restrictions are the biggest problem-particularly in rural/wealthy areas and why we have the worst mobile data coverage of many developed nations (and many allegedly undeveloped ones)
It is, however, a green and pleasant land. :neutral:
 

najaB

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Not if you can't run a business in it due to non existent wired broadband or mobile coverage and you are forced to leave.
Oh, I know. On a point of order though, there are very, very few places in the UK where high speed Internet access can't be provided.
 

theageofthetra

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Oh, I know. On a point of order though, there are very, very few places in the UK where high speed Internet access can't be provided.

Well my father lives 21 miles from London and is unable to get decent broadband due to distance from outdated BT exchange, no cable or 4g due to planning objections.
 

najaB

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Well my father lives 21 miles from London and is unable to get decent broadband due to distance from outdated BT exchange, no cable or 4g due to planning objections.
He can get a high speed Internet connection if he wants one. The thing is, I expect that he isn't willing to pay the excess construction costs involved in so doing (typically ranging between £10K and £40K per mile from the nearest point of presence).

The question is, why should BT or any other communications provider do so in order for him to pay £19.99 a month for his broadband connection?
 

theageofthetra

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And this is an acceptable situation 21 miles from one of the largest cities in the world in a residential suburban cul de sac? Of course it isn't its pathetic.
 
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