You have been using too much wifi

GWR HST in 1976 colours

I’ve noticed that GWR (who were First Great Western) have started to limit their customers’ use of wifi. Three years after free wifi was introduced on their high speed trains, they’ve realised that it’s very popular and have implemented restrictions.

I've noticed that GWR (who were First Great Western) have started to limit their customers’ use of wifi. Three years after free wifi was introduced on their high speed trains, they’ve realised that it’s very popular and have implemented restrictions.

Back in 2007 I wrote an article, This is the age of the train… talking about the refurbishment by FGW, then I said

Do you think I should point out to First Great Western that some train operators provide free wireless on their trains, or do you think that would be pushing it?”

After seven years in 2014, it looked as though they finally listened and added wifi to their carriages on their high speed services from Bristol to London. Back then when trying it out I discovered.

The speed, as you might expect travelling at 125mph is inconsistent, but having done a speed test I was hanging to get between 5-9 Mbps which is more than reasonable. I was also able to stream video using YouTube and iPlayer.

I also asked the question:

Will the travelling public use the wifi, what with 4G and 3G so much more commonplace than back in 2007?

Well it certainly looks like they have been using it, hence the restrictions that GWR have put in place.

It’s nice that they also let you know how it is being used and how much bandwidth is available.

It's nice that they also let you know how it is being used and how much bandwidth is available.

It isn’t surprising that they need to do this, as technically I can’t see them being able to increase the bandwidth easily, so it make sense to restrict usage.

Having said that 15MB is not very much, not in this day of HTML e-mail messages, attachments, Twitter, Facebook and so on…

Well at least it’s still free. Hey Cross Country are you listening?

Me, well I still using my own 4G connection, it’s faster and unlimited data is greater than 15MB.

Melting the Wi-Fi

The canal in Birmingham

Back in the early noughties I remember attending edtech conferences and the wifi failing to cope with the number of delegates. That wasn’t surprising, they were often using a single wireless access point and when sixty plus edtech delegates hit the event with their laptops and PDAs it wasn’t much of a surprise to find the lone access point failing to deliver any wifi.

Even today I have been to events where the wifi struggles as delegates with their laptops, iPads, smartphones connect to the wifi. It is partly about the number of devices, it is also about how they are using the connection, refreshing twitter, uploading photographs, streaming video like Periscope. I also think that some people may take advantage of the fast connection (sometimes inadvertently) to download updates, podcasts and video.

The canal in Birmingham

At the recent UCISA Spotlight on the Digital Capabilities event in Birmingham, the conference centre wifi, which in theory could cope with 250 wireless clients, failed to deliver a stable consistent wifi connection. I found that if my laptop was connected to the wifi, it not only took time to get a connection, but every so often the connection would drop. I would say that when I had a connection it was fast and consistent. I felt lucky that I could still tweet and upload photographs using my phone on my Three 4G connection. I was getting over 60Mb/s on that connection in the main auditorium. I was quite pleased that the seats in the auditorium had tables and power sockets.

60Mb/s

The thing is, a conference with delegates from the edtech world are probably going to melt the wifi as most conference centres don’t plan their capacity on the extremes. For most events it probably works just fine. Personally since those early days I have come less and less to rely on the conference wifi, using a 3G dongle, 3G tethering, a 4G WiFI Hotspot to my current 4G tethering. This means that not only do I not worry so much about melting wifi, but it frees up the bandwidth for somebody else, and I think I might a pretty heavy user of bandwidth!

4G’ing it

iphone 6s plus Photo credit: Yanki01 via Visual Hunt / CC BY

I have now been on Three for nearly six months and I am still pleased with the speed of the connection and reliability of the service.

In some areas I am getting nearly 50Mb download speeds.

Download speeds

There are some days when the connection appears to stall, but this is short lived.

I am on an unlimited data contract with Three. This appears to be a full unlimited contract with no “artificial” limits or throttling.

On my previous original T-Mobile (now EE) contract I would usually use less than 2GB. This was partly down to the speed of the 3G connection. On the Three connection I am now using on average 35GB of data. In at least one month I used in excess of 50GB.

As my home broadband is rather slow, I am now using my iPhone connected to the TV via an HDMI adapter for services such as iPlayer, Netflix and other on demand services (well the ones that work through the adapter). As the connection is quite fast, I am able to stream HD video, which probably explains the high data usage!

Nov – 30GB
Dec – 22GB
Jan – 50GB
Feb – 41GB
Mar – 35GB

Checking the bills I used over 7GB on the 7th January, no idea what was happening that day.

There are some aspects that I find frustrating, however these are more down to limitations imposed by others. For example Apple don’t allow you to download software updates, large app updates, movies and TV shows over mobile data, you have to use WiFi. However as my internet contract is much slower compared to the potential speeds I can get on 4G this means that it can be frustrating when I need to download large files.

In terms of signal, one of the reasons I chose Three was the coverage they have for my home address and over Bristol. In other places it has been somewhat sketchy, but was pleased to get a decent signal in Dublin for a conference (and no roaming charges) other places I wasn’t surprised as it was rather rural.

I will say I wasn’t disappointed with the signal of T-Mobile, especially when they merged with Orange. However the lack of an unlimited data contract on 4G meant that I didn’t see it as an option. Though 3G was okay, I do appreciate the faster speeds you get with 4G.

Photo credit: Yanki01 via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Haven no 4G, well not quite no 4G

Though I have been pleased with the 4G coverage I get from Three at home in Weston-super-Mare and at work in Bristol, as well as travelling. I was pleased with the coverage I got recently in Dublin, but I didn’t expect anything less.

Going on holiday down to Cornwall I did wonder if I would be getting any coverage at the Perran Sands Haven resort we would be staying at. Checking Ofcom’s coverage map it was apparent that there wasn’t much hope.

Perran Sands

Arriving at the resort I wasn’t too surprised that in the caravan there was no signal of any kind. I was a little surprised to find that climbing the sand dune next to us, I could get a 4G connection! Not too practical to climb a dune to stream Netflix.

There was supposed to be free wifi in the central hub, but as mentioned in a previous post about the Haven wifi, my expectations about this weren’t too high, and I never did manage to see the free wifi network let along connect to it.

I wasn’t too worried about having a connection to the internet whilst on holiday, I was quite happy to leave the Twitter for a while, I certainly wasn’t going to worry about e-mail, but it would have been nice to be able to stream some video, or read the news. So in the end I watched the occasionally bit of live television and I also read books and newspapers.

Reducing Roaming Costs

Royal Hospital Kilmainham

Last week I was in Dublin for the LILAC 16 conference. The last time I was in Ireland was in 2012. Back then I was on an EE contract and when I arrived at Dublin Airport I tuned flight mode on, on my iPhone as I didn’t want to incur huge roaming charges. There was quite a few press stories (and still are now and again) on people taking their smartphones abroad and racking up huge charges in their phones because of the way modern phones use data. I spent the week using wifi and making the odd call home when needed.

Since then there has been new EU legislation on roaming charges. I also have moved away from EE and have a new contract with Three using an iPhone 6S Plus. The contract gives me unlimited data on the phone as well as unlimited texts and a generous number of minutes, well who uses their phones for making calls these days?

So before this visit to Dublin I checked the Three website and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I could use my phone abroad with no extra costs!

So before this visit to Dublin I checked the Three website and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I could use my phone abroad with no extra costs!

Though I have an unlimited plan, there are some restrictions when using my plan abroad.

If you have all-you-can-eat data you can use up to 12GB. If you have all-you-can-eat texts you can send up to 5,000 texts.

So during my visit I was able to easily join the Three Ireland network, make calls, send texts and use data with no problems or worries. Though it has to be said the UCD enduros wifi network was excellent and faster than the Three 3G network, whilst the 3G was faster and more reliable than the hotel network. As I was there only three days, the 12GB allowance was more than enough.

After I got back I got a text from Three. According to them I saved £56.36 which was nice.

According to them I saved £56.36 which was nice.

Still no fibre

fiber optic light

Fast broadband in Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) came to the Worle exchange, my local exchange, in 2010 and at the time I was one of the first people to sign up, as soon as our cabinet was upgraded. However in 2012 we moved house, literally moving down the road. This house was connected to a different cabinet, and if the internet is to be believed this was the only cabinet connected to the Worle exchange which wasn’t upgraded.

I am connected to cabinet 25, which is on Moor Lane, near to the playground in Plumley Park. At the time of writing it still hasn’t been upgraded with no indication from BT Openreach when it will be upgraded.

I have written previously about my woes with fibre before, when we first moved house and lost fibre and then my initial investigations into why I couldn’t get FTTC and back in 2012 writing about the confirmation of no plans to upgrading cabinet 25.

I did once e-mail BT Openreach (when they published an e-mail address you could contact them on, they’ve removed that option now), their response was that the cabinet wasn’t economically viable and as a result it would probably be upgraded by Connecting Devon and Somerset as part of a public private partnership.

Thank you for your enquiry. You are connected to the Worle Exchange, cabinet 25. We are deploying one of the fastest and largest commercial deployments in the world. Our commercial deployment will have extended to 66% of the UK by the end of December 2014. We aim extend this to 90% of the UK, in partnership with other sources of funding, e.g. local and National government. Our deployment is based on the commercial criteria for each cabinet and your PCP fails to meet the commercial criteria. This is because the cabinet is too small to provide a return on the investment based on the costs for the construction and on-going running costs of providing a new FTTC cabinet. Where cabinets are not commercially viable Government funding is available to county councils and it is worth registering your interest on the County council website.

As a result I of course registered my interest to the council supporting the upgrade of this cabinet to FTTC via the Connecting Devon and Somerset website.

Connecting Devon and Somerset has been set up to deliver next generation broadband infrastructure to areas where the market has failed to invest.

I never heard from BT Openreach or Connecting Devon and Somerset again…

I wrote to my MP, and John Penrose, had had similar queries did some investigation., but again no clear answer from either side.

Connecting Devon and Somerset now say on their web site that:

According to our records your area is either currently, or planned to be, commercially covered by a private service provider. As such we are not allowed to invest in your area under European Commission State Aid regulations. You are not part of our programme and will need to contact an internet service provider (ISP) to find out about the current status/plans for your area.

So the situation is that originally BT Openreach said they wouldn’t upgrade the cabinet as it wasn’t commercially viable. Connecting Devon and Somerset say they won’t upgrade the cabinet as it is part of a commercial rollout.

The BT Openreach website now says that the cabinet is “Under Review”. At one point a third party website said that the cabinet was part of the Phase 13a rollout, but then BT Openreach closed that site down, so that information was lost to the ether.

The BT Openreach website now says that the cabinet is “Under Review”.

According to some other stuff I have read it would appear that BT Openreach decided initially that cabinet 25 wasn’t commercially viable, as a result passed it over to Connecting Devon and Somerset. Then at some point BT Openreach changed their mind about the commercial viability, so when Connecting Devon and Somerset came to plan to upgrade the cabinet, they found it was part of a commercial plan, and under the rules they adhere to, they weren’t able to upgrade it. Now we are in a situation where BT Openreach are saying that it is under review with no indication of when or even if it will be ever upgraded.

The end result is now in 2015, when most people across Weston super Mare have access to FTTC, the area around cabinet 25 don’t. It’s got to the point when I think EE’s 4G service may be the only viable option to fast broadband.

Finally, free FGW wifi on the train

London Paddington

As I write this, this morning, I am using the free wifi courtesy of First Great Western on their High Speed Trains.

IMG_3446 3

You have been able to use wifi on their Cotswold line Adelante trains for a while now, but FGW announced last year they were finally rolling out wifi across their fleet of High Speed Trains on the Great Western mainline. The carriages are been revamped and upgraded and when they are they are having wifi fitted. You can tell if your carriage has been upgraded as they have white domes fitted into the roof.

IMG_4285

The speed, as you might expect travelling at 125mph is inconsistent, but having done a speed test I was hanging to get between 5-9 Mbps which is more than reasonable. I was also able to stream video using YouTube and iPlayer. CrossCountry for example block streaming video services on their “you have to pay for it” wifi. Upload speeds were less than 1Mbps, so you may not want to spend your train journey uploading photographs and video.

fgwtrain

The train this morning is quite empty, it will be interesting to see how the experience changes as the train fills up as we head to London. I suspect I might be the only person using it at this time, what would happen if we had 84 people in the carriage all trying to watch BBC iPlayer.

As I travelled down the line, you noticed variation in the speed and experience. As I would have expected, the connection was quite flay as we went through the Box Tunnel between Bath and Chippenham.

Over the last few years I have written quite a bit about travelling and connectivity, both in terms of wifi on trains, but also using 3G (and now 4G).

Back in 2007 I wrote an article, This is the age of the train… talking about the refurbishment by FGW, then I said

Do you think I should point out to First Great Western that some train operators provide free wireless on their trains, or do you think that would be pushing it?”

After seven years, it looks like FGW finally listened…

Again in 2010 I wrote another article about train travel and communication

As I travel I like to try and get some work done in the time I have available. One key aspect of my job is communication and for that I need a decent internet connection. First Great Western, unlike some other train operating companies does not provide wifi on their services.

I went onto say

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor. I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal!

At this time, CrossCountry did not provide wifi, and I discussed this a few months later after the previous post.

I did wonder why CrossCountry Trains didn’t put in wifi as you find on the East Coast Main Line services and Virgin Trains Pendolino. Well it appears that providing wifi was part of their Franchise agreement with the Department of Transport. CrossCountry Trains was suppose to have wifi in place by November 11th 2009. They failed to meet this deadline and the revised deadline of the end of January 2009.

Eventually CrossCountry did put wifi into their trains, which I discovered in 2012 when I travelled with them to Birmingham,

I realised it must have been some time since I last travelled with Cross Country as on my most recent trip with them I was astonished and surprised to find that there was wifi…

A year later I did moan a little about the flakiness of their wifi and why I wasn’t going to renew my subscription.

My main reason was that the last couple of hours was rather flaky and I often had dropped connections. With that kind of connectivity then I might as well rely on 3G and not pay any extra money.

I am still a little astonished it has taken First Great Western until 2014 (and it won’t be complete until 2015), over eight years, to put wifi into their trains, they know that their customers wanted it as did the regulator. We have had wifi in planes for a while, and they travel a little faster and higher than trains. Will the travelling public use the wifi, what with 4G and 3G so much more commonplace than back in 2007?

I should also say that I am still impressed that I can connect to the internet whilst travelling at over a hundred miles per hour.

No 4G Nexus 7 for the UK

Nexus 7 2013

The new Google Nexus 7 is coming to the UK on the 28th August, however we will only be seeing the wifi versions, £199.99 for the 16GB version and @239.99 for the 32GB version. There is no news on the LTE (4G) version coming to the UK.

I really like my original Nexus 7, it’s my favourite travelling device, much easier to carry about than the iPad. It’s much more portable than the iPad mini and fits into more pockets and bags than the iPad (or even the iPad mini).

I don’t think I need to upgrade my existing 7” Nexus, though I do like the idea of the “retina” screen, but I do think having a 4G Nexus would be useful for travelling, without worrying about having to tether to my phone, so would consider upgrading it, if there was a 4G version available. I do think we will see cheaper and more widespread 4G over the next year or so.

I don’t have an iPad mini

iPad mini

I don’t think I will be getting an iPad mini, not that I don’t like the idea behind the product, but I already have the iPad (third generation) and a Google Nexus 7, I am not quite sure where the iPad mini would fit into my life. Then again I thought the same about the iPad when it first came out (got a laptop and a desktop, why do I need a tablet?).

If I didn’t have the Nexus 7, then I might seriously consider the iPad mini. The form factor of the Nexus 7 is really nice and portable, much more than the big iPad. Unlike a phone though, the larger screen size makes stuff like web browsing work.

Early reviews of the iPad mini say that, though it is smaller than the iPad, due to the 1024×768 screen resolution it is too wide! Making it difficult to put in your pocket. I also wonder if the small screen would make it challenging to type on. I do a fair bit of typing on the screen of the larger iPad, but have found it not so easy on the Nexus 7 screen.

I am less bothered about the “lack” of a retina display. Don’t get me wrong I really love the retina screens on the iPad (third generation) and my MacBook Retina, but it isn’t always a deal breaker; I can always get my glasses out.

One of the reasons I might get an iPad mini is that I have a large investment in iOS apps and as a result it would be quite quick and easy to get it into my workflow. Another reason would be 4G, but as the current status of 4G in the UK isn’t exactly attractive, what with limited coverage and high tariffs, I am not sure that is a valid reason (at this time).

4G

Mobile Phone Mast

Today sees the launch of the UK’s first 4G network. It’s quite a small network with availability only in the following cities: London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Southampton.

I don’t have a 4G device, well I do, I have the third generation iPad, but I don’t think that will work with EE’s 4G. I can’t actually find out if this isn’t the case, but I am pretty sure that is correct.

I am thinking about getting an iPhone 5 that supports 4G to replace my ageing 3GS. Though as the 3GS is still running iOS 5 I might keep it for the Maps app! However I am expecting Apple to turn off that existing Maps app in a year’s time when their licence for Google maps runs out.

To be honest what I really need is a 4G MiFi or similar so I can take advantage of 4G with all my devices. EE will start selling SIM only deals next month.

The tariffs from EE are quite expensive, £36 per month gets you just 500MB of data which is not much… a typical BBC iPlayer programme is half that! It goes up to £51 for 8GB.

So though I would like to have 4G I don’t think I can afford it!

Another factor that has taken me by surprise is by how slow the reported speeds of 4G are. I have always thought of 4G as speeds in and around 100Mbps. However from the news reports I have seen today have spoken about 15Mbps.

EE’s own press release says that their 4G is only five times faster than 3G.

The UK’s first 4G mobile service will launch on Tuesday October 30th, offering consumers and businesses a new way to access the people, places and things they want on the move, with speeds typically five times faster than 3G.

So as well as wondering about the costs of 4G, I am not even sure with the limited geographical availability and lower than expected speeds, I don’t think 4G is for me at this time.