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Government wants better mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity for rail passengers

Matteo Natalucci Published 03 January 2018

As part of its 5G strategy, the Government has committed to improving mobile and Wi-Fi coverage on trains


The Government has announced its intention to develop a plan to improve UK’s train passengers onboard mobile and Wi-Fi connections.

The proposal sets out how, working with industry, connectivity for passengers on all mainline routes could be improved to reach speeds of around 1 Gigabit Per Second (Gbps) by 2025.

The Government said that to deliver the improvements, upgraded trackside infrastructure could be required for reliable connectivity in areas of high passenger demand and in hard to reach areas such as tunnels. The Government added that to deliver this will involve laying fibre along the tracks, mounting wireless devices on masts (and other trackside infrastructure) to transmit the signal to the train; and providing power supplies to these masts.

Technical and practical deployment challenges of trackside infrastructure are now been assessed on a trial on the Trans Pennine route between Manchester and York, in partnership with Network Rail.

The proposal set out three systems through which the project could be delivered:

  • Dedicated trackside infrastructure comprising base stations/masts, fibre to backhaul the signal from the masts to the core telecoms network, and access to power for these systems.
  • A radio system external to the train that links it to the trackside system.
  • In-carriage systems that provide Wi-Fi and/or mobile network connectivity.

This pilot is part of the government’s £31bn National Productivity Investment Fund, which has already earmarked £1bn specifically for improving Britain’s digital infrastructure, ensuring the UK is match-fit for the future.

Minister for Digital Matt Hancock said, “We want people to be able to get connected where they live, work and travel. This means improving connections on Britain’s railways now, and making sure they are fit for the future”.

Hancock said, “We’ve got a long way to travel but our destination is world-class signal for passengers. This will not only make journeys more enjoyable and productive, but will help improve the operation and safety of the railway and deliver economic benefits for the whole of the UK”.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said, “We are investing record levels delivering the biggest rail improvement plan since Victorian times to improve services for passengers - providing faster, better and more comfortable trains with extra seats”.

Grayling said, “Improved mobile connectivity will help passengers to keep up with work, connect with friends or even check the latest journey information online while on the move, as we continue to build and develop a railway fit for the twenty-first century”.

call for evidence  has now been launched on the different ways the improvements could be delivered to support the Government’s ambitions to have a digitally connected railway that meets customers expectations and cements the UK’s place as a world leader in 5G technology.

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