Government May Cut Free WiFi Wireless Internet from UK Trains


The UK Government’s Department for Transport (DfT) has hinted that the ability of railway commuters to access free onboard public WiFi while travelling could be cut to help pay for the train service itself, which is said to be unsustainable in its current form.[1]

At this point it may be worth highlighting that, back in December 2017, the UK Government pledged to make “uninterrupted” WiFi[2] and Mobile (5G) broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) available on-board all UK mainline train routes by 2025. But since then, the government has not issued much in the way of a solid progress update.

Admittedly, onboard WiFi can be a fiddly and often unreliable experience, although experiences do vary depending upon the rail franchises involved and the route being taken – some networks and areas are a lot better than others. Furthermore, it’s a similar story for 4G and 5G mobile signals, which are arguably much more popular today than the risks associated with using public WiFi.

Nevertheless, yours truly has – from time to time – had to rely upon flaky WiFi during train trips in order to get some work done, and I would miss the ability to connect as a last resort. Not to mention that the same connectivity is often used by staff to perform various work related tasks while in-transit.

A DfT Spokesperson said (BBC[3]):

“Our railways are currently not financially sustainable, and it is unfair to continue asking taxpayers to foot the bill, which is why reform of all aspects of the railways is essential. Passenger surveys consistently show that on-train wi-fi is low on their list of priorities [EXAMPLE[4]], so it is only right we work with operators to review whether the current service delivers the best possible value for money.”

Placing the service under review doesn’t necessarily mean that the government will scrap it altogether and some train operators may have a different strategy, but a lot of the older WiFi kit was installed several years ago and is now due for replacement. Suffice to say, a decision on replacement and upgrades may have to be taken soon, before that kit starts breaking down with greater regularity.

However, the government is reported to have said that many people on short journeys did not connect to the on-train WiFi, and used their mobile broadband (phone) network instead. This is an interesting comment because some small cells can be used to relay both 4G/5G data and WiFi signals through the carriages, although we’re not sure how many trains use this particular approach (a lot of the time 4G/5G signals may also come from trackside infrastructure/masts etc.).

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