Just as bad as I remember…

a CrossCountry train

I haven’t been on a CrossCountry train for a while now, so on a recent trip to Cheltenham Spa from Bristol Temple Meads I was interested to see how the 3G connectivity issues I’ve always had on that route would be like, especially as I now have 4G with Three.

Well same old problems, dipping in and out from 4G to 3G as well as periods of No Service.

I would like to blame the train, but the reality is that there is poor phone signal connectivity on that route. As there is no incentive for mobile network providers to improve connectivity.

If I do go to Cheltenham again, I think I will take a book!

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.


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.


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.

Flaky WiFi

Cross Country Trains

Back in October I talked about the wifi on CrossCountry Trains.

In the end I went with an £18 for 30 hours deal which I have been using since then.

I finally finished my 30 hours and it was time to renew. However at this time I have decided not to renew.

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.

Cross Country WiFi

Cross Country WiFi

I have mentioned, okay moaned, about the lack of wifi on Cross Country trains and the problems with using 3G in their Voyager trains as their construction was very good in blocking phone and 3G signals.

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…


This I had to try. Alas it wasn’t free and when I checked the tariffs it wasn’t cheap either.

There are two tariffs, one based on elapsed time and the other on total minutes.

There are two tariffs, one based on elapsed time and the other on total minutes.

So for a one off long journey then it will cost you anything up to £6.

Now I don’t use Cross Country that often, but did consider the total minutes package. For £18 I would get 30 hours of wifi that was valid for a year.

In the end for the test I went with the one hour for £2. I did like how I could pay by SMS, but that does mean you need a phone signal!

Overall the speeds were low compared to potential 3G speeds. This isn’t a service you could use for doing certain things, the terms of use explicitly say you can’t use it for catch-up TV (ie iPlayer), downloading large files (ie system updates) or file sharing.

Cross Country WiFi

So how did it go. Well apart from a couple of glitches on my journey, I was quite pleased with the performance. I can’t really expect decent wifi when travelling through a tunnel for example.

On the return journey I decided to rely on 3G and the experience was awful in comparison to Cross Country WiFi. It think it is a serious option if I need internet when travelling by train, especially Cross Country.

QR Codes on Platform 2

I am now seeing QR Codes more and more in what I would call the mainstream. My most recent observation was at my local railway station (managed by First Great Western) where I was checking the timetable and noticed the QR Code in the corner.

Looking at it in more detail, I just had to scan it in, well one does these kinds of things…

I use Optiscan on the iPhone as I have found it to be very reliable and certainly on the 3GS was the best option I found. The reason I like Optiscan is that it works nearly every time.

Of course all a QR Code is, is a shortened URL and no matter how easy it is to scan in with the phone, the key, the end result is how does the final web page look on your mobile device.

I wasn’t that impressed with the landing page as I had to click a link to actually get the timetable.

I am pretty sure that FGW have done that because the timetables change, but even if that was the case, they would also need to reprint the printed version so could then print a new QR Code. Another reason might be to gather stats from the landing page. The actual digital timetable was in PDF format and was usable on the iPhone.

However given the choice I think I would probably use the Train Times App (also available on Android) which also gives live travel information so you know if your train has been cancelled. The problem with a PDF timetable is that it won’t account for live changes to the timetable, you could certainly have a QR code on a printed timetable linking to a live timetable, and I think FGW should have done that.


BBC reports on the first “officially allowed” mobile phone call from a commercial airliner.

Dubai-based airline Emirates has become the first commercial airline to allow passengers to make mobile phone calls during flights.

Emirates said the first permitted mobile phone call was made on a flight between Dubai and Casablanca.

The aircraft, an Airbus A340, is fitted with a system which stops mobiles from interfering with a plane’s electronics.