The updated advice on "on the road to training connectivity" adds the 39 GHz band as a possible option. What does this mean in English? Well, if the UK government allows train operators to take advantage of that extra spectrum, travelers on board will be able to access ultra-fast Wi-Fi inside the train, as well as faster increases in the mobile network, including 4G and 5G.
Yes, that means you can finally use Wi-Fi on board … instead of just watching the annoying charging icon stir for the duration of your journey. If the extra spectrum works as expected, passengers will be able to forgo downloading a boxset before traveling – instead, broadcast their favorite programs when they find a seat on the train (unfortunately, the increased speed of the Internet will certainly not make it easier!).
The government has pledged to ensure that the rail network has "seamless" Wi-Fi and 5G mobile speeds of up to 1Gbps available on all UK rail routes by 2025. Since that original promise in December 2017, the government has been quiet with that plan – something that the recent decision to remove Huawei's designed infrastructure from the UK's 5G network is unlikely to help.
According to Ofcom's calculations in 2018, if travelers could use Wi-Fi and mobile connections on unrestricted trains, a 550-passenger train in 2018 would need to access 80Mbps of capacity to suit everyone properly. Trains with 800 passengers would need 120 Mbps and compact trains with 1,200 passengers would need 180 Mbps.
For comparison, currently the average broadband speed available in UK households is 64 Mbps. Pumping that bandwidth three times on a train traveling at 125 km / h is no easy task.
And, according to Ofcom, passenger demand will only increase in the coming years. As travelers expect to keep in touch with friends and family using VOIP calls, video chats or working remotely using tablets and laptops – the bandwidth required on trains will also need to increase.
By 2025, Ofcom estimates that the capacity required for a 1,200-passenger train will reach 3.6 Gbps. The additional spectrum highlighted in the latest recommendation to the UK government can help trains keep pace with our devices and transmission habits. Now, if we could do something about ticket prices …