Chancellor George Osborne hopes to improve mobile business on the railways
Of the 25 UK rail franchise operators, 12 do not have Wi-Fi connectivity while frequent travellers will know that mobile coverage can be patchy at best on some parts of the railway network.
The government hopes that by improving connectivity on the railways, passengers will be able to facilitate business on the move and help the economy.
Train Wi-Fi and mobile
The funds will be used to install equipment on the trains that will provide better coverage, such as antennas on carriage roofs that receive mobile phone signals and relay them through repeaters in the train.
It is unclear whether rail operators who accept the cash will be required to offer Wi-Fi services for free. Some, such as the Heathrow Express, offer wireless Internet for free, while others, like East Midlands Trains, charge to use the service. The Scottish government has pledged £2 million to install free Wi-Fi on all 59 of ScotRail’s ‘class 170’ trains, which run between major cities in the country.
If there are no such conditions attached, then operators could be persuaded to offer free Wi-Fi if it increases passenger numbers. When National Express assumed control of the east coast main line in January 2008, it scrapped the £4.95 per hour rate for Wi-Fi charged by its predecessor and reported a three-fold increase in travellers within the month.
Wi-Fi coverage is currently available at a number of London Underground stations, but there are currently no plans to implement mobile coverage on the tube, despite it being present in a number of other underground rail services around the world.
TfL told TechWeekEurope that although it supports the idea of mobile rollout on the Tube “in principle”, any project should not come at the expense of taxpayers or fare payers and that major UK phone operators had so far been unable to come up with a self-financing solution for voice calls in the deep tube.