Man utilising internet connectivity on the train, via Istock

Wireless Infrastructure Strategy outlines plan to enhance passenger connectivity across the network

The 11th April saw the UK government publish its new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, which has outlined the focus for updated delivery of digital infrastructure that will enhance the mobile coverage across the rail sector.

It is understood currently that mobile coverage for passengers traversing the rail network is well below par, with the unreliability spelling difficulties for passengers attempting to access their device’s connective capabilities, such as accessing the internet or make uninterrupted phone calls.

As coverage across the rail network leaves a lot to be desired, there are a plethora of obstacles that need to be overcome, some of which are somewhat unavoidable, such as railway lines running through tunnels and cuttings that can prevent signals from masts outside of the corridor from reaching the trains.

To combat the existing issues, there must be adequate trackside infrastructure that can facilitate a consistent signal. This, however, is costly and complicated to deploy as this infrastructure can only be implemented whilst trains are not in service, as well as this process being complex and resource intensive.

According to the National Infrastructure Commission’s publication Connected Future: Getting back on track, the UK Government must address key areas of development to enable greater connective access for passengers, including addressing the cost and complexity of installing the requisite infrastructure along the railway lines. The recommendations from this review highlight the need for the DfT to facilitate the access to trackside infrastructures, whilst also addressing commercial barriers through a government competitive process to improve connectivity on specific rail routes.

Previous initiatives to improve the passenger experience through improved interconnectivity along the lines have seen the implementation of free on-train Wi-Fi on the majority of trains, coupled with selective improvements in addressing rail ‘not-spots’. More recently, initiatives like MerseyRail’s infrastructure solution and Network Rail’s Project Reach, which aims to deliver high fibre count cables and neutral host infrastructure on key railway routes, have been introduced.

According to the report, the government has also embraced the development of Evo-rail’s ‘rail-5G’ as the first multi-gigabit internet solution that will improve the overall connectivity across the railway at 50 times that of existing speeds.

To ensure that these planned improvements develop at a consistent and stable pace, the National Infrastructure Commission has recommended that this should be monitored and reported on through Ofcom, with a progress report at least every 2 years.

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