When HS2 trains first carry passengers, there won’t be a need for people to manually log on to a WiFi service, as they’re boosting the mobile phone coverage along the tracks.

However, as the HS2 trains will travel at speeds of up to 225mph, it would be unreliable to rely on phones connecting to mobile phone towers outside the trains, as by the time they’ve connected, they could well be out of range again. This is made harder by sitting in a large metal box, with metallicised anti-UV windows which just happens to be an ideal way of reducing phone signal strength, and the railways also often pass through cuttings in the ground which add to the problems of your smartphone staying in range of a remote base station.

To get around this problem, HS2 is installing mobile phone micro-cells inside the carriages and phones will automatically connect to those instead as they will have the locally most reliable signal strength. The trains will in turn connect to a line of new towers that are being built along the tracks and optimised for the fast moving trains.

The towers will also be used for the radio signalling system that controls the trains, and as the signalling system will also be required in tunnels, the same system, modified for radio feeder cables will also extend smartphone coverage into the tunnels.

With that set-up, there’s no need for Wi-Fi accounts or login pages, as the phones will treat the in-carriage microcell as if it’s just another part of the nationwide phone network. That also has benefits for overseas visitors as their phones will automatically roam onto the in-train coverage without needing to sign up for another service.

The other benefit is that HS2 has confirmed that the line of towers being built along the railway to provide phone coverage to train passengers will also boost public coverage along the railway for the general public. As phone coverage can be weaker in some of the rural areas that the HS2 railway passes though, that’s a benefit for people in the countryside.

HS2’s head of project delivery for communication systems Richard Kirkham said: “The massive advantage of taking a clean sheet of paper and developing a new railway network for the 21st century, to operate in the twenty-first century, is that we can build in the things people expect, like modern telecoms.”

“In practice, that means HS2 tunnels, open route sections, stations and trains all include telecoms in their design specification, which enables the railway to operate as a single system.”

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9 comments
  1. Penny says:

    Ah, so I’ll need to upgrade my data package sometime in the next decade.

    One of the joys of free WiFi on public transport is being able to connect & stream films/tv/etc without worrying about my data costs.

    • alistairtwin says:

      By then the 2 episodes of corrie that you’d need to get you to birmingham will likely be cheaper than a text message…

      I would bet they will ALSO have a wifi system which might also have streaming films like the WCML or BA do at the moment.

    • ChrisC says:

      You’ve not been on Avanti or LNER or Southern or …. then because they block streaming sites

  2. alistairtwin says:

    I wonder if they will extend this to all the non-hs2 routes that the same trains will travel on (eg if you are going to glasgow) would be handy if they did. or maybe you just have to log onto wifi after wigan

  3. Paul says:

    Great article and excellent insight, thanks Ian.

    It doesn’t suggest to me that the browsing will come out of your network’s data allowance, so some reassurance there for Penny.

    The question in my mind is what the TOC will charge for the use of their system ? I cannot imagine that this will be free !

    • alistair twin says:

      If it’s 4g or 5G then it will just be your standard phone contract. these privately installed transmitters are common in large buildings with poor signal like hotels and offices already. (and the jubilee line) the phone user doesn’t notice the difference and is billed normally.

  4. MilesT says:

    All well and good except for laptop users, unless the expectation is they will use their mobile phones as “hot spots” to create WiFi for the laptop. Unless there will also be Wifi intended for laptop use

  5. SteveP says:

    “The towers will also be used for the radio signalling system that controls the trains”

    I do hope they have taken the opportunity to also fit some sort of redundant backup system? I imagine fibre-optic cable connections could be provided at minimal cost, allowing for continued service when one system inevitably breaks down. One also wonders if the wireless signalling can be retrofitted onto other lines where issues constantly delay trains? GWR certainly could benefit

    As to free wifi, on GWR you can connect, but don’t expect to be able to do anything with it

    • ianVisits says:

      “I do hope they have taken the opportunity to also fit some sort of redundant backup system?” <-- why rely on hope, when railways have had backup systems for signalling for decades?

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