So, I have been meaning to do this for a while. Today we are onboard with Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western) to take a look at the WiFi user experience on offer to passengers. The service is free, fortunately! Most on board (train) WiFi is delivered via mobile connections on the roof of the train. Usually they will have several SIM cards (say 4) at each end of the train and they share this out among all the passengers. Yes, the same SIM cards you have in your phone – and theirs also have data caps and overage fees. SO the service depends heavily on mobile coverage – no masts – no signal – no WiFi. With UK average 4G speeds (@25Mbps) each end of the train is getting 100Mbps so 300 passengers could be sharing 200Mbps (that’s 0.66Mbps each). On top of all this, if a couple of the SIMs are close to their data cap (say 20gb per month) they might not be available for passengers.
Lots of people use the Reading to London Paddington train service, and most of them probably don’t bother to use the WiFi. It isn’t clear who actually provides the WiFi service, but GWR put their name to it.
They collect the following data:
- First Name
- Last Name
- Email Address
Once registered, users are taken at a leisurely pace to a local portal with some nice information about the current WiFi service on board.
Whilst the woefully low speeds make it difficult to conceive of any situation when a user might benefit from having WiFi on board, it no doubt fulfils certain franchise obligations. We will be doing some more testing of WiFi from other train operators, and we are sure that mileage will vary, stay tuned.