Post #535

World's first? Wimax for train commuters

16th February 2005, early afternoon | Comments (31)

I read in today’s Daily Telegraph that T-Mobile will be offering a wimax service on trains from Brighton to London Victoria, apparently a World’s first.

They report:

Brighton line to get high-speed internet

Commuters will soon be able to send emails and surf the high-speed internet on the way to work when T-Mobile launches the world’s first broadband service on a train.

The mobile phone operator will launch a free trial next month on Southern’s 55-minute Brighton to Victoria express. The line is used by one in six commuters into the capital.

It plans to offer the service on several other main lines into the capital in the summer when it will begin charging. Users need an up-to-date laptop computer — and a seat.

T-Mobile’s service uses a pioneering wireless technology called Wimax, which many analysts see as a threat to 3G, the high speed mobile internet technology.

At the height of the dotcom boom, Britain’s mobile companies paid £22.5bn for licences to run 3G services, which were later massively delayed.

Although 3G products such as video phones have finally become available, 3G signals on train routes remain patchy, making it difficult to connect to the internet on journeys.

To solve the problem, Southern has allowed T-Mobile to place powerful Wimax base stations, which have a signal radius of thirty miles, along its tracks.

The base stations can pick up moving signals from designated carriages which T-Mobile has turned into so-called ‘wireless hotspots’ by installing special equipment.

Hotspots are already common in airports and coffee shops, enabling people to surf the internet at high speed — without plugging into a phone line — by using the short-range wireless technology known as wi-fi, which comes as standard on most laptops.

However, until now no company has been able to provide a broadband connection on the move. According to Nomad Digital, which installed the base stations on behalf of T-Mobile, the service will even work in tunnels.

Although the London to Brighton route presents many challenges we have proved that high-speed wireless access to moving trains is possible without building huge towers or other costly infrastructure, said Nomad’s executive chairman Nigel Wallbridge.

Whether the train travels through tunnels, bridges or high hedgerow, customers should not experience a drop in service.’ Hamid Akhavan, T-Mobile’s chief technology officer, sought to set expectations low, however, as he revealed plans at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes.

Inevitably it will not be perfect, he said. It will not work everywhere and it will have teething problems. But it is leading edge technology. Rivals were more sceptical. Steve Andrews, managing director of BT Retail’s mobile division, said: Technically it should work, but will the business model? There are a lot of people who will download work to do before they get on the train and happily wait for web access until they get to the office. Others wondered how many commuters would be comfortable advertising their expensive laptops.

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Comments (31)

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  1. Andrew:

    I'm surprised no one's done this before now, to be honest. Technological constraints? I don't know enough about it to say.

    Many's the time I've been sitting on a train for hours on end, when wi-fi access would have been incredibly handy - for passing the time, if nothing else.

    Posted 20 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  2. James:

    "However, until now no company has been able to provide a broadband connection on the move"

    ...but GNER Trains have been offering WiFi in several of their trains for a while now ( and I think Virgin Trains do as well.

    I have no idea how they get net access to the train though - it may be something other than WiMax. So this may be the first WiMax installation but it's definitely not the first "broadband connection on the move"!

    Posted 39 minutes after the fact
  3. Dunstan:

    I've recently been able to dial-up via the modem on my bluetooth mobile phone, but it's nothing like having broadband. (Plus it cuts out when we go through tunnels.)

    I imagine that the Brighton-line pricing, when it's eventually announced, will only fit business users, but still, it's a start.

    Posted 41 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Andrew
  4. Rob Mientjes:

    Argh! Stop this devilry! I <em>know</em> I should buy a PowerBook to profit from wireless internet (yes, I also know you can buy 'laptops', but they are lame)!

    Now Dunstan, will you be using it extensively?

    Posted 55 minutes after the fact
  5. Nathan Logan:

    Plus, it never hurts to encourage increased use of mass transit.

    Posted 1 hour, 3 minutes after the fact
  6. Colly:

    Good news. I only hope they provide it on the Midland Mainline, and that it won't be anyway near as expensive as T-Mobile wi-fi in Starbucks (£5 per hour, or £7.50 for three hours - ouch).

    Posted 1 hour, 23 minutes after the fact
  7. Jonathan Fenocchi:

    Can't wait for global wireless broadband via cellphone connection; current speeds just don't cut it.

    Posted 2 hours, 58 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Aankhen
  8. Maria:

    *sigh* Tijuana is still struggling with the whole mass transit concept :^P Not that we don't have it, mind you, but it's a far cry from anything anyone would DARE bring a laptop to.

    Posted 3 hours, 9 minutes after the fact
  9. Nathan Logan:

    In other news (completely unrelated to this post), I just checked out your stats ( (please pardon my nosiness) and I love this...

    Search Strings:
    #23 - squirrel porn

    Posted 6 hours, 15 minutes after the fact
  10. Jeremy Keith:

    This has actually been in a test phase for a while now. Somebody posted to a local mailing list here in Brighton from the train.

    For now it's free. I suspect when it does roll out properly it will indeed be quite pricey.

    For now though, if you're on the Victoria to Brighton train, it's worth taking out your laptop and doing a spot of wardriving... wartraining?... warcommuting? Whatever. It's a good excuse to make a trip to Brighton.

    I didn't find anything on the way back from London last weekend. But then I only had my iBook out long enough to fill up Andy's iPod Shuffle with some *proper* music. ;-)

    Posted 9 hours, 38 minutes after the fact
  11. Kitta:

    I still can't get broadband in my area, I think I'll be stuck on dial-up forever, they'll set-up broadband underwater in wet bar's for divers before they set it up here.

    Posted 16 hours, 17 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Aankhen
  12. Dunstan:

    "...I only had my iBook out long enough to fill up Andy's iPod Shuffle with some *proper* music"


    Posted 22 hours, 55 minutes after the fact
  13. Oliver:

    World's first?

    Sorry, but... (German)
    ...Swiss railways have been a bit faster.

    No idea about how much it is used, though.

    Posted 1 day after the fact
  14. Alistair Lattimore:

    Just yesterday (Australian, Thursday 17/02/2005) a friend of mine was using the various CityBuses that travel around Brisbane.

    Whilst on his travels, was continuously connected to WiFi (he downloaded a small file as a test at 300Kbyte/s) through a provider named iBurst (

    He has a paid subscription to the service, at what I would consider a modest price of $49 per month.

    Good to see this sort of thing spreading around the world. There are plenty of people that commute daily to work on public transport, which can take up to and over two hours return per day. If you work in IT, that time can actually be productive if need be now.

    How excellent

    Posted 1 day, 10 hours after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Aankhen
  15. Rob:

    I'm heading up to Oxford (Via the Big Smoke) on Saturday. I shall wip out the powerbook and try and add a reply to this post.

    Should be good for the trial period and I wonder if they will have peek prices (6-9am) and then sensible prices for the rest of us (students).

    For a while now I have resulted to watching 24 or Family Guy on the train, but having decent BB access would be fantastic, even if it does mean burglary

    Posted 1 day, 20 hours after the fact
  16. Andrew:

    Southern tickets are expensive enough as it is, they should swallow the cost to provide the service!

    *sigh* Wouldn't it make more sense to invest in creating a larger 3G network and coverage area instead of creating a new one...

    Posted 1 day, 21 hours after the fact
  17. Sparticus:

    Coming out of Paddington on the train there are a whole bunch of free wi-fi signals happening, of course they are only of use when the train has to stop for no reason and how often does that happen?

    Posted 2 days after the fact
  18. Phil Ringnalda:

    Hey Dunstan, whatever unit of currency they paid 22.5bn of, it's wound up as an undefined character in your charset, so it's a "?" here and a fatal error in your RSS.

    Posted 3 days, 11 hours after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  19. Dunstan:

    Ah, thanks for the heads-up, Phil.

    For some reason the keyboard on my Mac is outputting a pound symbol that's not standard in some way. I've inserted the proper decimal code instead, so everything should be fixed now.

    Posted 3 days, 11 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Phil Ringnalda
    Inspired: ↓ Jacques Distler
  20. Aankhen:

    Great. A train gets nice WiMax connectivity and here in India ISPs are still touting 64 Kbps cable connections as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or, if you're rich, a 512 Kbps connection limited to 2 GB a month.

    Sorry, I just had to whine. :-)

    Posted 4 days, 6 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Jonathan Fenocchi, ↑ Kitta, ↑ Alistair Lattimore
  21. Jacques Distler:

    I'm gonna wager that it's not your Mac (which has excellent Unicode support) that's at fault.
    Rather, I suspect that it's your entry-posting form that's iso-8859-1 (or, more likely, sets no charset at all, and so defaults to iso-8859-1), whereas your pages are displayed as utf-8.

    This form is probably OK: my £0.01.

    Posted 5 days after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Dunstan
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  22. Dunstan:

    Ah, you might be right, Jacques, it's the form in PHPMyAdmin. Good thinking...

    Posted 5 days after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Jacques Distler
  23. Gothic Industrial Music:

    I'm surprised it hadn't been done earlier.

    Posted 5 days, 8 hours after the fact
  24. Rob McMichael:

    No joy for me, the train up was an old swingdoor and on the way back there was nothing.
    There were no signs but I just checked the presence of a wireless network every now and again.

    Perhaps its only on the morning trains

    Posted 1 week after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  25. Dunstan:

    Oh, bad luck. But I expect you're right, it's probably just at business hours.

    Thanks for reporting back, Rob!

    Posted 1 week after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Rob McMichael
  26. Rob McMichael:

    No probs, like the fact you have snow for your panorama, most people wouldn't have bothered with the work considering it rarely snows down here :p

    Posted 1 week, 5 days after the fact
  27. Craig C:

    VIA Rail between Toronto and Montreal has wireless Internet access. Couldn't comment on the relative technology or when they became available though...

    Posted 2 weeks, 2 days after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Andrew Escobar
  28. Harry:

    It's possible to create your own train-wap as well. See this News Tribune article:

    The developer's notes are here:

    Posted 2 months, 1 week after the fact
  29. Andrew Escobar:

    The express trains between Montreal and Toronto do have "free" wifi access, but its about as fast as dial up and only available when you travel first-class. Still its good enough to check your email and use iChat. Hopefully this will start popping up on more trains.

    Posted 6 months after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Craig C
  30. Ian P:

    Sounds wonderful. I cannot even get BT to fix the faulty line to my office to provide the fixed Broadband they said I could have.

    Posted 11 months, 3 weeks after the fact
  31. UOP:

    I only hope they provide it on the Midland Mainline, and that it won't be anyway near as expensive as T-Mobile wi-fi in Starbucks

    Posted 1 year, 2 months after the fact

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