Mobile and train operators urged to improve coverage on railways

(Image credit: Govia Thameslink) (Image credit: Govia Thameslink)

Mobile operators and train companies have been urged to improve the state of railway connectivity after nine in ten passengers reported difficulties in accessing voice, text and data services.

Research from uSwitch found that 88 per cent of people had issues connecting the Internet, with 56 poor cent struggling to maintain a 4G or 4G signal. More than half said they had experienced dropped calls, while 38 per cent had been unable to send a text message.

There have been moves by operators to improve coverage along major rail routes, while the government has also sought to identify ways to improve the situation – including 5G. There has also been a suggestion that Network Rail’s fibre network could be used to provide the necessary backhaul.

Mobile railways

However, improving cellular connectivity is challenging because signals tend to bounce off train carriages rather than penetrate them. Most train operators have therefore turned to Wi-Fi to alleviate the issue, but this has proved an unsatisfactory solution. Two thirds of passengers say they find train Wi-Fi difficult to connect to.

One of the other intriguing findings from uSwitch’s report is that the most popular applications are social media and music streaming. This shows that it isn’t just commuters frustrated by the lack of coverage.

“[Train] Wi-Fi connections are rarely as fast or reliable as the broadband people enjoy at home, which limits the performance of data-demanding apps and services people have become accustomed to using all the time,” said Ru Bhikha, mobile expert at uSwitch.

“On top of that, free networks which aren’t password protected are increasingly susceptible to fraud - it doesn’t take much for a potential hacker to mimic the name of a train network, encouraging the user to route all their unencrypted and sensitive data through this phony hotspot.

“Combined with the fact that many rail operators have introduced time limits caps - some of which are as little as 15 minutes - means that these WI-FI networks are often both unfit for purpose and a possible security hazard.

“This, coupled with patchy 3G or 4G reception en-route, can make for frustratingly intermittent connectivity during the morning commute.

“Both network providers and rail operators should work together to deliver the infrastructure needed to serve the vital arteries carrying Britain’s workforce.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.