Plans to extend on-board WiFi on UK trains going ahead, though at a snail’s pace
Does this train have on-board WiFi? We don’t know. Image by Jozef Sowa (via Shutterstock)
Imagine being able to catch up on your favourite TV programmes aboard the Caledonian Sleeper train. From next year, the provision of free on-board WiFi will be a must for all future rail franchise holders in England and Wales. On paper, this could give rise to the use of Smart Tickets (using smartphone screens), as well as enabling you to watch films, or check your social media sites and emails.
The plan was announced prior to the 2015 General Election with £50m funding allocated by the Department for Transport. In a parliamentary debate, it was revealed by Digital Policy Minister, Matt Hancock that the minimum speed would be one megabits per second.
But 1 Mbps is half the internet speed of North Korea (where internet speeds are 2 Mbps).
Rail franchisees may reserve the right to increase speeds beyond the baseline figure. The figure sends out a signal that England and Wales are decades behind the rest of the developed countries with internet speeds. For watching YouTube clips (let alone the latest Richard Hammond production on Amazon Prime), 1 mbps is pretty slow. Facebook and Twitter might be a test. Furthermore, entry level speed on BT’s Infinity package is 52 mbps.
By the time the whole of Britain’s rail network is kitted out with free on-board WiFi, 1 mbps wouldn’t be enough for a tweet or a Facebook status update. Reviving Prestel for Northern Rail’s Pacer units could be better (and they are supposed to be going in 2020)!
At present, WiFi coverage on Britain’s rail services is patchy. Whereas Virgin (West Coast and East Coast) and First Transpennine Express have WiFi connections, the former franchisee’s access is limited. On Northern Rail’s services, only the Airedale and Wharfedale Line electric trains from Leeds to Skipton/Ilkley have free WiFi.
Labour’s Shadow Digital Economy Secretary, Louise Haigh is proposing an amendment for bus operators. Though Stagecoach, Arriva, and FirstGroup operated bus services have on-board WiFi, they mainly feature on trunk routes. Our city’s Lothian Buses have free WiFi on most routes.
We hope the Department for Transport consider a faster threshold. Whether they will remains a mystery, though they aim to raise minimum speeds by 25% each year. Don’t all rush at once, form an orderly queue.