papers-and-ipad-on-train
I received a press release yesterday from EE that observed that 4G has increased the likelihood of UK shoppers conducting their shopping online. To be more precise EE’s 4GEE “Mobile Living Index” – essentially a survey – said that the number of people who said that they planned to shop online using a smartphone or tablet had increased from 15 per cent last year to 39 per cent this year.

That might be true but what caught my eye was the claim that “The daily commute (8.30am and 5.30pm) is the most popular time for shopping on mobile devices”.

Well that might be true for some, but not in my case, or anyone that shares my train commute.

As an EE customer I can attest to excellent network performance near my home and work locations, but on the commute is a rather different story. During this, my phone goes through every flavour of mobile standard, from no service, to 2G, to GPRS, to EDGE, to HSDPA and for a few brief minutes of data bliss, to 4G. The commute is tiring for me – it must be exhausting for my phone.

The reason for this is the terrain. The train line is set away from the good coverage areas and the signal has to contend with high walls round the line, extensive tree coverage and bridges. In addition, occasionally, in between signal failures, the train sometimes moves at speed. None of these things is conducive to delivering a solid data connection. EE use of 1800MHz spectrum, rather than 800MHz, while great for speed in good coverage areas, makes it less likely the signal will penetrate these obstructions.

However, it’s not as if EE can’t compete, as in the spectrum auction it picked up 2 x 5MHz of 800MHz LTE (as well as 2 x 35MHz of 2.6GHz), but it has yet to play its hand on what its plans are for these.

Of course, even if this was deployed it would only help me if I changed my handset (the UK iPhone 5 only supports LTE 1800MHz), which I have no plans to do at the moment.

The frustration is that we’ve been sold the concept of 4G as enabling us to work, play and shop online at high speed while on the go, specifically on trains, but in many cases, it’s still a pipe dream in real world situations.

If seems it’s not going to get much better any time soon. According to this story, “High-speed 4G broadband will be fully in use on sections of Britain’s rail network in 2019 under new plans announced by ministers.”

Inside a train, yesterday

Inside a train, yesterday. The  lack of 4G can clearly be seen.

2019? Really?

On top of that we’re told that only 70 per cent of the public will get 4G on trains by 2019.

Well colour me excited. That’s fully ten years after the first 4G was introduced in Europe, which means that by then, well could expect 5G to be nearing reality.

Furthermore, while Network Rail will be responsible for the track side infrastructure, it will be up to the individual train operators to supply and install the 4G systems on the trains themselves.

Seeing as my train operator, First Capital Connect doesn’t seem too hot on actually running a train service, (as in trains running on time, running with enough carriages, or running at all), I don’t expect it to be able to do sterling work as a 4G network installer.

It’s not all bad of course. On the upside, I’m getting to read more.

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