UK Train Commuter Broadband The Story

Over recent years weve seen massive improvements in broadband across lots of different domains.

Weve seen mobile broadband get significantly better, with the emergence of 4G connectivity and speeds theoretically up to 100Mbps. Weve seen fibre optic broadband residential solutions released with 330Mbps connection speeds.
Even ADSL has improved with better rollouts of technology into the telephone exchanges, seeing connection speeds up to 24Mbps.

Its no wonder that we are going to see advances in commuter broadband. Weve already seen broadband available on planes and trains, but now in the UK, the train situation is going to get even better.

The Plans
The rail industry have set up plans to release truly high-speed, superfast mobile broadband around much of the British rail network. The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is leading the initiative and says that, by 2019, over two-thirds of the passengers that travel by train in the UK will have access to broadband technology that is much faster.

The speed of Internet should be sufficient to stream movies on smart phones and its likely that the trains are going to have the bandwidth and data allowances increased significantly, perhaps by as much as 25 fold.

Where is the money coming from?
The money for the developments is going to come from the industry.
If youre anything like me, train price hikes have shocked you over the last six months. It seems that a train journey is getting more and more expensive. Jumping on from Southampton to London and coming home in the evening can cost as much as £40 for a standard ticket. Considering it costs about £15 in petrol, its clear where the value lies in a commute. However, the journey only takes an hour and ten minutes to Central London by train.

Increasing Commuter Efficiency
The improvement in broadband will make people far more efficient on the trains. Its notable that on large portions of the rail network at the moment, mobile coverage and mobile broadband coverage are pretty poor. Its natural that this is the case I suppose, with many trains going through rural and sparsely inhabited areas. It appears that the end of poor coverage for commuters is approaching; stand back.

It is our right
Recent surveys of people throughout the world have identified that we consider it our right to be able to have access to broadband. Indeed, the fact that the trains have such poor coverage, when we perhaps want it most for both pleasure and business, is a massive indictment of the UK transport system.

If we compare broadband speed on British and German trains Germany wins easily because they have been rolling out high-speed Internet on their trains for many years. In fact, Germany began way back in 2008. The UK, it seems, is behind. Many commuters will be happy to hear about the new train broadband, but will perhaps be wondering why more trains cant run on time.

Infrastructure improvement
Network Rail is currently going through a £1.9 billion improvement of their fixed mobile broadband infrastructure. A key new line of fibre optic cables will be able to handle almost 200,000 Gbps of data, and should be completed by June 2014.

Of course, we are becoming more demanding when it comes to the Internet, and commuting is dead time that can be made more fun and productive. In time, we will see how the infrastructure and capacity upgrades help to raise satisfaction levels on the trains.

The infrastructure will involve signal booster devices inside train carriages, as well as new masts around the country. Most train operations currently limit speeds of users to 2.5Mbps, and also limit certain activities. Therefore, services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix are currently limited on many transport networks. In the future, this 2.5Mbps limit could be elevated to 50Mbps, opening up a whole multitude of activities for commuters in trains.

Broadband on the Tube
Were also seeing broadband come to the Tube through Virgin Media. Virgin won the contract to run their cables and Virgin customers can use broadband on the Tube for free in over 160 locations. If you are not a Virgin customer, and want to pay for the service, you can do so on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis too.

Better Infrastructure Equals Better GDP
It is clear that improving the British infrastructure will improve GDP. However, what is surprising is how strongly the UK population is behind improving broadband. In a poll designed to identify where the Government should spend their money 80% of responders stated that broadband was a priority. Only 44% highlighted the high-speed train link as having the potential for significant National benefit.

Communication is the heart of success in business, and productivity as individuals. To maximize the industrial and economic capacity of our nation as a whole broadband should be given a pivot role. Its clear that to become a truly competitive environment, Britain needs to do all it can to plug the gaps in our technology infrastructure and this development on the trains will certainly help.

Average Broadband Speeds
The average urban broadband speed in the UK is fast approaching 30Gbps. In the suburbs we are seeing average speeds of around 17Mbps. Rural areas are faring somewhat worse though; with average speeds around the 10Mbps mark.

Although all broadband has improved significantly the gap between the worst provisioned regions and the best is widening. It is going to take a lot of public and private investment to remedy the situation and bring rural Britain up to the level of many other European countries.

The government plan to bring 30+Mbps broadband to 95% of the UK has been set back two years to 2017/18. We await the arrival of high-speed train broadband. It is only a matter of time; but there is no guarantee that it will be on time.

Phil Turner wanted to compare broadband speeds across different ISPs before he committed to a new contract. Sites like uSwitch made this process a simple one.


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