Over the last couple of years I have spent a large amount of time travelling by train; mainly between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Stirling or Glasgow. And on each of those journeys I have experienced the same frustrating issues in trying to get an internet connection for my laptop or phone.

I have a Samsung S4 and unlimited data plan which allows tethering of other devices, so on the face of it I should have no problems – but the quality of the Three network is so patchy as to be unusable for much of the journey. On common parts of these routes, between Aberdeen and Dundee say, as much as 80% of the journey has no functioning 3G or HSPDA network signal. Even in Dundee station itself there is no signal – whereas there is a reasonable one in the centre of the Tay bridge! And where there is a signal, it frequently drops out after 5 minutes or less. This makes mobile working, or any other online activity almost impossible.

Speaking to friends and colleagues this is not unique to Three – the other operators suffer the same issues.

You might say that I should use the in-train Wifi. But my experience of this is mixed, and no train operator provides reasonable cheap service. Scotrail’s is free but frequently impossibly slow and often throttled. Cross Country Trains is all paid for and expensive on a per journey basis, and East Coast’s offers only a limited 15 minute free service then it is very expensive.

Perhaps there needs to be a movement for free wifi on trains just as there are several for free wifi in  hotels.

But why don’t the UK Network operators ensure better HSDPA coverage along our railways? Many of us pay over £30 per month for an unlimited service. Do we want to pay an extra £5 or £10 per day / journey to fill the holes in Three’s pr other operators’ service.

This raises the opportunity for the development of a cross-platform app that does the following in a fashion similar to a war-driving apps:

  • Notes the network operator to which the handset connects
  • Uses GPS to plot the journey
  • Monitors the signal strength of 3G / H data network along the journey, capturing location constantly
  • Notes black spots in the same way
  • Uploads the anonymised data to a central mapped portal

The portal would then highlight the various networks’ performance,k show routes, compare network operators, and provide the data as Open Data for analysis. This could then be used to put pressure on network operators to improve their coverage.

That’s one APP I would use.

Now don’t get me started on the lack of power points on Scotrail trains…..

UK Railways and internet connectivity
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