Technology

Rail mobile internet speeds set to get faster in UK

  • 30 September 2013
  • From the section Technology
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Image caption Network Rail is already spending £1.9bn upgrading its telecoms infrastructure

The rail industry plans to roll out "high-speed mobile broadband" across the busiest parts of Britain's rail network, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced.

By 2019, 70% of train passengers should have access to the faster technology, the Department for Transport added.

Passengers may be able to watch streamed videos on their mobiles, for example, if the plan to raise data capacity per train 25-fold succeeds.

The programme will be industry funded.

"Today's announcement marks the beginning of the end of poor coverage on our railways," Mr McLoughlin said.

A Network Rail spokesman added: "As an industry, we recognise that the limited availability of mobile communications on Britain's rail network is not good enough.

"If rail is to remain a preferred mode of transport, this must be addressed, which is why today's announcement is good news for the millions of people who travel by train each day."

Spare capacity

Network Rail is in the middle of a £1.9bn digital communications improvement programme that is upgrading both its fixed line and mobile infrastructure.

A new fibre optic network should be capable of handling up to 192,000 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) of data once the upgrade is complete in June 2014.

The Rail Safety and Standards Board has forecast that the telecommunications demand on Britain's railways could rise to 200Gbit/s by 2018, which would still leave plenty of spare capacity on the upgraded system.

"By increasing the number of mobile phone masts to fill gaps in signal coverage, and incorporating signal boosters inside train carriages, passengers will be able to benefit from our surplus data capacity," a Network Rail spokesman told the BBC.

Currently, train operating companies limit what kinds of material can be downloaded on to mobile devices because each vehicle only has access to 2.5 megabit per second (Mbit/s) of data which must be shared among its passengers. As a result the firms block access to video streaming services such as iPlayer and Netflix.

However, this could rise to 50Mbit/s per train after the upgrade, Network Rail said, allowing a change of policy.

The commercial details of how Network Rail, the mobile phone operators and train operating companies would pay for the additional upgrades, and how much passengers would be charged for high-speed mobile broadband, have yet to be thrashed out.

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