Training passengers to use the wireless LAN on Great North Eastern Railways

by Guy Kewney | posted on 11 October 2004

The giveaway on the new "Mallard" trains that tells you GNER is catering for Internet users is not the WiFi access point, nor the server - both are invisible. Instead, it's the newly-installed power points at every seat. Eight trains are now equipped in this way.

Guy Kewney

The railway train operator is probably exaggerating its accomplishment when it quotes BWCS as saying GNER runs more trains with WiFi than any other operator in the world - there are some Canadian/US ventures which have been going longer, certainly. And there are other experiments under way even in the UK, for example, with cix:kewney/newswireless:2 Virgin Trains.

<1/> The original Mallard was a steam engine, without wireless

But GNER is one of the first to have a genuine commercial operation. Internet access over WiFi hotspot on the train is available, free, to all first-class travellers on these refurbished trains, and there's a per-minute type charge for plebs in the lesser carriages.

Prices in Standard Class are: half an hour for £2.95; one hour for £4.95; two hours for £7.95 and unlimited (for the journey) for £9.95. Payment can be made by means of a secure server, using a credit card. A passcode will then be issued, allowing direct access to the wireless internet service.

NewsWireless will report further in due course. A previous test run ended in disaster, when staff failed to trace a train with the right equipment on it, leaving the Newswireless reporter stranded on a platform in Edinburgh with a first class ticket but no wireless train due for days.

We know that GNER's wireless can work. All we need is first-hand evidence and we'll be delighted to praise the network. Take-up rates for the new service are "rising ahead of all expectations," the company says.

"Wireless internet is a world-leading innovation which has major potential to transform train time into more productive working time - and to create a more enjoyable experience for our leisure customers," said GNER's chief executive Christopher Garnett. "GNER remains the only UK rail company to provide wireless internet on the move. We're proud to be a world leader in both the scale and quality of our technological breakthrough. This innovation has really caught the public imagination, and there's more to come."

Meanwhile, if you want to travel to or from London to or from Scotland, make sure you check the time-tables. They'll tell you where the wireless is.

GNER has eight, and plans to have ten WiFi Mallards, but right now, if you just show up at Kings Cross or points north, then your chance of boarding an ordinary electric train and having to use your GPRS modem instead, is rather higher than you'd probably like.

A dedicated website, offers hints on making the most of WiFi on the move, and a helpline staffed by GNER's own team of IT experts is available to assist first-time users.

<1/> the new Mallards run under wires, electrically, but have wireless Internet.

GNER's system is supplied and fitted by Swedish firm Icomera. According to telecoms analysts BWCS, 625 million people worldwide will be travelling on WiFi equipped trains within the next five years.

Each 'Mallard' train is fitted with an antenna that can communicate with satellites and GPRS systems along the GNER route. This is then linked to all coaches on board via the train's lighting circuit. When switched on most laptop computers equipped for wireless internet use will automatically detect the WiFi network and direct the user to the GNER 'landing page'.

Each 'Mallard' coach also has individual three-pin power sockets to allow passengers to recharge laptop batteries and mobile 'phones.

Anybody know of a train service with more WiFi than GNER? - You can discuss this article on our discussion board.