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SHOCK As Study Finds Naff Mobile Broadband Coverage on UK Trains

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 (4:26 pm) - Score 2,268

A new study from Global Wireless Solutions has discovered what most UK rail commuters already knew, that Mobile Broadband connectivity on the train is more often than not a pile of poop. Indeed 30.3% of mobile Internet tasks and 1 in 7 voice calls attempted on commuter train routes failed during testing. But Vodafone and EE put in the best performance.

GWS’s engineers carried out a series of “high-level tests” (they don’t say how many or at what time) and these were even conducted on ten of the most popular commuting routes into and out of London, thus you’d perhaps expect the service to be a lot better than in rural areas. But on average 23.2% of 3G data packets and 37.2% of 4G data packets didn’t even make it to their intended destinations.

The research also found that voice and data failures are more likely to occur when a train is travelling from 0 – 5MPH than when it is travelling between the speeds of 5 – 50MPH, although failures are still most likely to occur when a train is travelling above 50MPH (crossing reception thresholds at speed can often cause signal loss).

In addition, St. Pancras was said to have “by far and away the worst connectivity of all of the stations tested“, with engineers experiencing an average of 99 voice and packet data failures (across the four operators) while testing in the famous station.

The Top 10 Worst Stations (Avg. Number of Failures)

1. St. Pancras 99
2. Radlett 53
3. Kentish Town 43
4. Upminster 42
5. Elstree and Borehamwood 36
6. Hendon 33.5
7. St. Alban’s City 33
8. Cricklewood 27.5
9. Kidbrooke 27
10. Ockendon 26

The report also found that Vodafone’s subscribers get the best overall network reliability and 3G data service (speeds of 2Mbps on average during testing), while EE subscribers win for 4G data speeds and come close on reliability (5.6Mbps). Sadly Three UK’s 4G network is clearly displaying its lack of coverage.

train uk mobile internet connectivity study

GWS used an array of 12 Samsung Galaxy S4s to gather data for its study in June 2014, with three SIMs from each of the four major UK operators (3, EE, O2 and Vodafone) being used during testing; one SIM was used for voice testing, another for 3G-only data testing, and one SIM for 4G-only.

However it’s important to reflect that Network Rail and related train companies are already spending significant amounts of money to upgrade the United Kingdom’s rail-focused communications and broadband infrastructure, although this is expected to take another few years to complete. In the meantime the patchy coverage is likely to continue.

PS – Tongue firmly in cheek on that title.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all says:

    We cannot agree how to rip you off! It is not our spectrum, it is not our masts, it is not our track, but it is our train. Our (well motgaged) train (metal cage)includes any air (including all the atmosphere) or anything travelling through the air. Free wifi model is out as we are already charging more for coffee than Starbucks or Costa.

  2. Avatar TheFacts says:

    Average number of failures per what?

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Call attempts, data transfer what ever measure you want. Generally it is not working and we cannot blame BT – hurah!

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      2Mbps USC for train operators? Interesting piece to write, we would not get away with a lightly loaded cell in busy periods.

  3. Avatar Pedrostech says:

    Having travelled a number of times from Guildford station to Waterloo, I’m indifferent towards the data. There were people on various 3G SIMS who could stream iPlayer HD throughout the journey with only one/two buffers! iPlayer HD is 2.8mbps, so to sustain that over 45mins is pretty impressive! These seem to be significantly higher than shown here. HOWEVER, call performance seemed generally dire. On EE, it was dropping them left right and centre, and three wasn’t much better. To get a 3 min call’s worth of conversation took nearly 10!

    1. Avatar Unknown101 says:

      Pedrostech, were they live stream or not? If not then I assume throughout the journey the iPlayer stream would load the majority of the programme – hence only a few buffers (just a suggestion).

  4. Avatar Pedrostech says:

    Unknown101-they were past programmes, so not live stream. I just felt that it was fairly impressive that it could buffer HD programmes sufficiently to cope with tunnels/dead zones.

    1. Avatar 3G Infinity says:

      ………. or downloaded the night before. That’s what most do on the Portsmouth to Waterloo line.

      BTW South trains now has WiFi on the ‘444’ trains, that’s the white ones with 2+2 seating that are used guess, yes outside of rush hours!

  5. Avatar The Go To Guy says:

    Am I the only one who thinks the fact mobile data being poor on train lines is a good thing? The last thing I want going on around me is people streaming things loudly when I’m travelling.

    Tbh I would much rather see networks addressing their signal quality in rural areas. As someone who commutes from quite a rural area (not exactly remote mind you) to the city I am able to get a reasonable signal around the office but consistently poor signal once I get home. It’s clearly an issue for most others too according to this https://www.tigermobiles.com/2014/10/2014-mobile-data-survey/

    Rural should be a priority and they’re currently getting a poor deal IMO.

    1. Avatar sentup.custard says:

      “The last thing I want going on around me is people streaming things loudly when I’m travelling.”
      Agreed – but I am fortunate in this respect. Seven out of the ten stations listed (St Pancras, Radlett, Kentish Town, Elstree and Borehamwood, Hendon, St Albans City and Cricklewood) are on the line that I use most, the Thameslink line, so I am often treated to the sight of frustrated passengers shaking their phone or banging it on the side of the carriage (that’ll do it a lot of good!) in a vain attempt to regain their lost signal.
      Shame they can’t get the trains working properly on this line either though. 🙂

    2. Avatar The Go To Guy says:

      Everyone is addicted to their smartphones now so any time they’re not working it causes people to get unnecessarily angry. I watched Keiser Report on RT yesterday and he likened the iPhone to a modern day dildo. It vibrates in your hand and tickles your imagination, Steve Jobs largest producer of dildos in the world that add nothing to the economy as everything is offshore.

      Another thing this research show is just how far behind Europe we are as I’ve never had any issues with signal in France or Belgium be it on a train or out and about.

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