Ofcom may finally be set to boost UK train Wi-Fi

(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / LDprod)

Ofcom has identified spectrum that it says could be used to deliver better on-board Wi-Fi and mobile coverage to the UK’s railway network.

Several train operators already offer on-board Wi-Fi but research suggests many passengers suffer from a poor experience.

Meanwhile, improving mobile coverage is challenging because cellular signals tend to bounce off train carriages rather than penetrate them.

Train Wi-Fi

In updated advice to the government, Ofcom says the 39-40GHz and 66-71 GHz bands could be used to enhance broadband services. This spectrum wouldn’t connect end-user devices but would instead power the necessary backhaul for Wi-Fi systems and small cells, connecting the train to trackside base stations.

The greater capacity of these bands would ensure more passengers can access a satisfactory bit rate to perform common tasks like checking emails.

Ofcom has also identified the 26GHz band as a potential solution. Such ‘millimetre-wave’ mmWave frequencies are earmarked for 5G networks and are currently used for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband services in the US. However the regulator says it could take account demand for trackside services into its licensing approach for the spectrum.

Improving connectivity on the UK’s rail and road network is a priority for the government. Better connections on trains would allow people to be more productive on the go while roadside coverage would encourage the development of in-vehicle applications.

Recent changes to UK law means operators will be allowed to build masts closer to major roads, while the arrival of 5G networks and more diverse spectrum portfolios will also improve the situation.

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.