Lack of wifi on the train driving you mad?

Tuesday, 17 April 2018
Innovation

It’s easy to take for granted that internet connectivity is instantly available, everywhere we go. But installing it on a moving train is a complex and expensive task.

Nevertheless, Greater Anglia has committed to making free wifi available to its customers across most of its existing fleet, and is throwing in a free on board entertainment package too featuring Now TV and top shows to keep passengers amused on their journeys.

This upgrade involves a bespoke installation for each of the different classes of train it’s going in. We’re installing it in all five different classes of train we use to go into London Liverpool Street – a total of 856 separate carriages. (For the train enthusiasts among you, that’s the Class 360, Class 321, Class 317 and Intercity trains.)

Each carriage requires its own wifi access point, network switch, receiving antennae and power supply – all of which has to be housed in a secure cupboard. On some trains, such as the larger intercities there is ample space to site these, but some of the smaller commuter train carriages – that were built long before the age of the internet - have had to be specially adapted to accommodate the extra equipment.

Each carriage also needs an ethernet cable – exactly like you would have in the home - which runs through the ceiling panels and needs to be able to connect and disconnect to the ethernet cables in the other carriages to form a complete train.

The ethernet cable is vital as it extends the wifi coverage to each carriage.

We need 856 ethernet cables, one for each carriage. Put end to end, their total length would stretch 18km – over 11 miles!

In the leading vehicle of each train set is a router, local server, network switch and power supply which together make the magic happen throughout the rest of the carriages in the train.

It’s been a learning curve for Greater Anglia’s team of engineers at Ilford who have been trained in installing the new technology and aim to complete five trains a day over five weeks from May onwards.

Getting wifi to the train in the first place requires a good level of signal coverage across the 989 miles of track that make up the Greater Anglia network. Over the next few years this is going to be enhanced with an additional 25 new masts built in East Anglia and 410 existing ones upgraded by the provider, EE, which should see dead spots and poor signal areas almost eradicated.

That’s great news for the 100,000 Greater Anglia passengers who get through 200GB per month on an Intercity Norwich – London train as they, and others, will be able to make savings on their data packages by using the free wifi on board.

Overall, Greater Anglia expects around 907,000 passengers a month to benefit once the wifi upgrade and installation is completed in the summer / autumn of 2018.

The £4.5 million upgrade will give each passenger a 90MB free wifi allowance and unlimited access to a new, free infotainment channel called Connect that will allow passengers to watch NOW TV and Hayu TV shows, keep up to date with the latest news and weather, read magazines and see movie trailers on the move on selected trains when they log on to the company’s app or at www.gaconnect.tv.