Rail passengers promised high-speed mobile broadband

Plans for high-speed mobile broadband are to be rolled out by the rail industry across the busiest parts of Britain’s rail network.

As well as this announcement, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin also stated that, by 2019, 70% of train passengers should have access to faster broadband speeds whilst travelling, even to the point of being able to watch streamed videos on their mobile phones.

The Transport Secretary said: “Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the end of poor coverage on our railways,” whilst confirming that the programme will be industry funded.

A Network Rail spokesman added: “As an industry, we recognise that the limited availability of mobile communications on Britain’s rail network is not good enough.

“If rail is to remain a preferred mode of transport, this must be addressed, which is why today’s announcement is good news for the millions of people who travel by train each day.”

Network Rail are currently in the middle of upgrading both its fixed line and mobile infrastructure, as a result of a £1.9bn digital communications improvement programme. Once the upgrade is complete, in June 2014, the new fibre optic network should be capable of handling 192,000 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) of data. It has been forecasted that the telecommunications demand on British railways could rise to 200Gbit/s by 2018.

“By increasing the number of mobile phone masts to fill gaps in signal coverage, and incorporating signal boosters inside train carriages, passengers will be able to benefit from our surplus data capacity,” a Network Rail spokesman stated.

Currently, each train only has access to 2.5 megabit per second (Mbit/s) of data, which must be shared between passengers. This has meant train operating companies have had to limit downloads on to mobile devices, blocking access to video streaming services such as iPlayer and Netflix.

After the upgrade, the available data could rise to 50Mbit/s per train, which may allow a change of policy. As of yet, it is unclear how much passengers may be charged for this high-speed mobile broadband service.