How London Is Upgrading Train Internet Options

How London Is Upgrading Train Internet Options

People who find the idea of mobile signal access on a plane disturbing aren’t going to like this either. The Eurostar train which flits effortlessly between the UK and mainland Europe is soon to get mobile phone coverage for the 37.9 kilometres where it runs under the English channel.

Picture by Les Chatfield

Media reports suggest that the option will be launched before July, in time for the London Olympics. One obvious difference between this scheme and offering in-flight access is that people have long been able to use their mobile phones or access 3G broadband for the majority of the journey, when the train is above-ground.

Indeed, I tested this myself back in 2009, using a UK 3G dongle for net access between London and the English Channel. The results were good, though there are a lot of tunnels in the early part of the trip where signal drops out. Nonetheless, the European experience was one of the better ones in my many attempts to test mobile broadband on trains, a process which has encompassed multiple runs in Queensland, two attempts at the journey between Sydney and Melbourne, a trek along the NSW North Coast, a run from Melbourne to Adelaide and a comprehensive exploration of suburban train coverage through Perth.

In a similar development, plans have also been announced to make free Wi-Fi accessible on the London Underground. In this case, however, Australians can afford to feel more smug, since the access will only happen on station platforms, rather than being offered throughout the journey, and will only be free while the 2012 Olympics are on. Picture by Chris Hearn

The majority of services in central London are entirely located in underground tunnels, so mobile signal has never been an option in most of them. By comparison, the vast majority of city train services in Australia are above-ground, so phones normally work. The only major exceptions are the CBD areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and the Bondi Line in Sydney. There are also tunnels in Sydney on the Airport and Macquarie lines, but as more recent constructions those include built-in repeaters for mobile signal.

Given the tight dimensions of the London system, it seems highly unlikely that there’ll be mobile options anywhere for the foreseeable future. The depth of the underground platforms means that mobile signal is already lacking, so the free Wi-Fi is welcome, even if it’s only temporary.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman loves relaxing on a train with a drink and a good dongle. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • We shouldn’t feel too smug, at least tube trains have displays showing the next station and network maps clearly displayed. Travelling from Town Hall to Warrawe on saturday I had to walk to another compartment to find the network map. I found announcements on the Milan tube easier to hear and understand (i don’t speak Italian) than those on the Sydney trains.

Log in to comment on this story!