High-speed mobile broadband will be rolled out across 70% of Britain’s rail networks by 2019, according to the Transport Secretary.
The plans – which would enable passengers to surf the internet quickly, engage in fast social media and stream videos on their mobiles – were announced by the Department for Transport today, and were described by Transport Secretary Patrick MCLoughlin as: “the end of poor coverage on our railways.”
Network Rail is currently undergoing a £1.9bn digital communications improvement programme that is upgrading both its fixed line and mobile infrastructure.
A new fibre optic network capable of handling up to 192,000 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) of data should be complete by June 2014, but the Rail Safety and Standards Board has forecast that the telecommunications demand on Britain’s railways could go up to 200Gbit/s by 2018.
Train passengers currently experience limited access to the internet, because each vehicle can only handle 2.5 megabit per second of data, which must be shared amongst passengers. As a result, train 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.
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.
“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.”