Train operator East Coast has begun a £2.2m upgrade of its on-train Wi-Fi to deliver a faster and more reliable ‘click and go’ connection. The first two trains to be upgraded are now in service, with the rest done by this summer.
A programme to install industry-leading hardware on each of East Coast’s 44 trains has begun, and passengers are starting to benefit from a more reliable internet connection for every user, every time.
The East Coast route was the first in the UK to offer Wi-Fi on a moving train ten years ago in 2003, when trials began using what was then groundbreaking technology.
On-train systems have been progressively improved since, but the extension of fibre optic broadband to millions of homes and the surging popularity of smartphones and tablet computers have raised customers’ expectations from on-train wireless internet.
East Coast Commercial and Customer Service Director Peter Williams said: “Our customers tell us that a reliable Wi-Fi connection during the journey is one of the key reasons why they choose the train instead of driving or flying.
“Demand from passengers has been rising rapidly, partly because of the huge rise in the number of Wi-Fi capable devices owned by our customers, including smartphones, tablets and e-readers.
“Our system has to keep pace with this demand, and the investment we are making now is upgrading the consistency of the service, by replacing on-train servers, access points and switching equipment which together deliver Wi-Fi in every carriage.
“We want our passengers to feel at home whenever they travel with us. A key part of that is staying connected throughout the journey – that’s why we’re installing new equipment now to deliver a more reliable and faster connection in years to come.”
East Coast is working with connected vehicle solutions provider Icomera to bring the new technology to its trains. The first two trains to be fitted with the upgraded hardware – one diesel High Speed Train and one electric train – are now in service, bringing a better connection to passengers across the full East Coast network from London to Inverness.
As well as providing an always-on Wi-Fi internet service for customers, East Coast uses its wireless connection to support business critical systems, such as on-board catering, retail and ticketing.
The Wi-Fi system also supports East Coast’s award-winning ‘Falcon’ web-based on-train remote control monitoring system, which provides information on each locomotive’s condition and gives advance warning of train component failures ahead of actual faults occurring, thereby improving performance and leading to more reliable services for passengers.
The Government announced last September that investment at the trackside will focus on a series of ‘not-spots’ – areas alongside key rail routes with intermittent or poor mobile phone signals. Network Rail is already mid-way through a digital communications improvement programme to upgrade its fixed line and mobile infrastructure.
Further improvements will follow, including an increase in the number of mobile phone masts to fill in gaps in signal coverage, using the most up-to-date technology capable of delivering higher access speeds.