New Survey Highlights Mobile Coverage Gaps on UK Rail Lines

(03 May 2023, BWCS Staff)

Barely three weeks since the UK government addressed the lack of rail track mobile coverage in its Wireless Infrastructure Strategy paper, a mobile network analysis company has seemingly clarified the extent of the problem.

To almost no-one’s surprise, a newly-published coverage survey by Streetwave addressing the main line from Edinburgh to London found a series of “not-spots” (areas of no mobile network coverage). However, the overall speed of mobile internet connection, when connected, was not bad and some mobile companies fared better than others. Overall, the data showed that EE’s network provided the least interruptions for passengers using their mobile connection to browse the Internet on the route.

Streetwave’s report covers mobile internet connection and not the train's own on-board WiFi. It seems to show that some mobile users were without a “useable mobile Internet connection” (taken to be the ability to download an Internet page within 3 seconds) – for almost half of the 4-hour 40-minute journey. Connectivity dropped regularly for every network, with coverage gaps up to 31 miles long, limiting passengers’ ability to browse online whilst on the train.

In its recently published Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, the Government called on Ofcom to report annually on the availability of mobile coverage on mainline rail routes and has asked the communications regulator to provide costings for obtaining the data.

Meanwhile, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said it is working to improve digital connectivity on rail routes. For example, it is supporting MerseyRail’s installation of dedicated trackside WiFi infrastructure in Liverpool, as well as Network Rail’s ‘Project Reach’, which is set to inject private-sector money into a new fibre network and build neutral host infrastructure alongside main train lines.

LNER which runs trains on the route surveyed by Streetwave recently started trialling a system that will enable passengers to stream video content to their devices without straining the train’s WiFi service. The UK train operator is partnering with Netskrt to offer streamed shows from ITV Hub.

Speaking of the Streetwave survey, Angus Hay, the company CEO said: “One of the key advantages rail should have over other transportation means is that it should enable passengers to stay connected for work while on the move. We hope that the findings from Streetwave’s independent survey can be used by stakeholders to identify the locations where mobile coverage can be improved for passengers travelling between London and Edinburgh.”

Achieving better connectivity along major rail routes will be one of the main subjects of debate at this year’s WiFi on Trains Conference – Traincomms 2023 ( )

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