Skip to the content

The Value of Mobile Connectivity on the Train

Unlocking up to £40 billion of Productivity

Sometimes it’s nice to travel by train.  It is certainly more relaxing than taking a flight, with room to stretch your legs and a table to work from if you need it.  As I write this, I am on the train from Paris to London.  It’s a pretty long train with over 900 seats and it’s almost full.  That’s a lot of people tied up for a 2½ hour journey.

UK rail passenger growth has far outstripped air travel and car journeys in recent years [1].  In fact, over 4½ million people travel by train on an average day in the UK.  Just over half of these people are commuting to work with a mean journey time of an hour [1].  That’s a lot of people making train journeys up and down the country every day.  What if this time could be made more productive with mobile connectivity giving access to email, web, cloud computing and voice calls?

Data from the ONS and the OECD show that an hour’s work is worth £37 to the economy [2].  Earlier this year, the Ofcom Communications Market Report found that 35% of commuters considered internet access essential to complete tasks in their professional life [3]. This puts the economic value of commuting by rail and travelling for business at somewhere between £14bn and £40bn depending on the proportion of people willing and able to take advantage broadband connectivity while on the train.  In fact, the economic value should be even higher as people in the highest income quintile make four times more train journeys than people in the lowest quintile [4].

There has been much made of Britain’s lack of productivity growth in the last decade, something that should be cause for national concern.  Some even describe it as a crisis [5].  Productivity growth enhances living standards, creates national wealth and provides resources to improve public services.  Providing quality mobile broadband for rail passengers will deliver significant productivity gains.

Providing connectivity for rail passengers is not rocket science.  There are numerous success stories around the world.  I spent some time studying in Switzerland a few years ago and there was great mobile broadband on SBB’s InterCity service courtesy of on-board repeaters.  A recent set of benchmarking tests rated mobile connectivity on Swiss railways ‘outstanding [6].’  At the Mobile World Congress every year the connectivity is great on the Barcelona underground system.  There are lots of solutions out there from repeaters that can be placed in each carriage to make the most of coverage that already exists to dedicated private wireless railway networks.

Imagine being able to use your train as a mobile office.  What if your commute counted as work-time?  Could you could split the difference with your employer to create a win-win situation?  This would give you an extra five hours a week to spend with family and friends while simultaneously boosting your output at work.

In Vilicom we already understand the business value of travelling by train.  Our engineers and consultants travel by train all over the UK from our Reading baseImagine what solid mobile broadband on the railway could do for the UK economy and for passengers’ quality of life?  It is time to invest in the future.

– Seán



[1]  “Transport Statistics Great Britain 2017,” Department for Transport, 2017.
[2]  “OECD Employment Outlook 2017,” OECD, 2017.
[3]  Ofcom, “Communications Market Report 2018,” Ofcom, 2018.
[4]  Department for Transport, “National Travel Survey: England 2015,” DfT, 2015.
[5]  C. Giles, “Britain’s productivity crisis in eight charts,” Financial Times, 13 8 2018.
[6]  H. Rügheimer, “The Great 2018 Mobile Network Test,” 2017.