Bad reception on public transport? You're not alone

checking reception on phone

Do you find your connectivity (wifi and mobile network) on public transport is poor? A recent national survey found that 9 out of 10 people experience issues. Why is this figure so high and what is being done to improve the situation? Selectra brings you the hard facts about using your mobile on public transport.


How bad is connectivity: wifi and mobile network statistics

In a study by uSwitch, an incredible 88% of people report that they experience connectivity issues on public transport. If you are a rail commuter, this probably doesn’t surprise you.

Furthermore, the survey found that 56% had trouble maintaining a 4G signal on public transport. This led to more than half saying they have had calls drop out and 38% of respondents have had issues sending text messages.

Results from a national survey conducted by YouGov found similar evidence:

  • Only 33% of passengers feel their mobile network coverage is good enough.
  • Only 13% of passengers think that train wifi is good enough.
  • 22% of passengers stated that train wifi isn’t even available on their commute.
  • 52% of passengers are prevented from working during their commute at some stage due to connectivity dropping out.

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Connectivity: Why is using your mobile on public transport so difficult?

We’re going to focus on trains rather than the underground because mobile network and wifi aren’t available underground between stations...yet. We will explain more about this later because exciting developments are planned for 2020!

Workers commuting only by train across the UK account for 9%. Train travel costs the most, with an average spend of £193 a month. If train commuters are spending the most, surely the service is the best to match the price.

While trains may be the quickest way to get to work for many people, the internet connectivity certainly won’t be. For years this issue has plagued the rail operators. In fact, Ofcom even commissioned a report in 2012 on why connectivity is so poor on trains.

The short answer is: getting coverage inside a large enclosed space that is racing down a track is not easy. Mobile signals from outside cannot be relied on because they can’t get inside the train.

Light at the end of the tunnel: and connectivity for some

If the signals from outside the train cannot make their way in, it makes sense to start inside the train. This is exactly what Cobham Wireless, international wireless experts, have done.

East Midlands Trains wanted help providing connectivity on a fleet of 27 trains. Understanding the problem is not an easy one to solve they called in industry heavyweights, Vodafone. Vodafone invited Cobham Wireless to assist on the project, as they are the pioneers of getting connectivity aboard trains.

The solution turned out to be fitting multiple digital onboard repeaters (D-OBRs) inside the carriages. These special units are designed for the unique environment nuances within a train, such as vibrations and temperature shifts.

While this is great work and many of us are envious of these connected carriages, what does the future look like for the rest of the UK’s commuters? Will we be checking our emails or turning the pages of a novel?

What’s being done to improve connectivity on public transport?

The good news is that help is on the way. The National Infrastructure Commission has outlined areas in which the government must improve rail mobile connectivity. Here are some of the key target dates and suggestions from the report:

Deadline specified Area Detail of improvement
December 2020 Leadership and action Department of Transport to appoint a ministerial lead and publish an action plan
December 2020 Access to trackside land Network Rail to make arrangements for third parties to be able to access land in order to install connectivity networks
June 2021 (latest these processes can begin) Commercial barriers The government is to formulate plans around a competitive process for delivering connectivity improvements

As you can see, the coming years should really help improve the current connectivity situation. Hopefully, commuters will then be able to focus solely on getting a spot to sit and not finding a hot-spot.

Connectivity on the underground: 2020 is the year

We promised you an update on the status of London Underground connectivity and here it is. 4G is expected to hit the underground at some stage in 2020.

At the moment, London has wifi at stations but not between stations. This will be a huge win for underground passengers.

Many cities around the world have introduced connectivity on their underground networks, including Moscow, Barcelona and Melbourne. London Underground is a little more tricky to fit out with the internet because of the many twists and bends in the tunnels.

However, solutions have been found and will be introduced this year. TFL has said that trials have been positive and they expect passengers to have good 4G connectivity on the Tube.

We will be back with further updates just around the bend.

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