On track for Train WiFi

WiFi internet access on trains is the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle for real productivity on the move. Passengers have been hamstrung by patchy network access as trains pass through tunnels but that is changing.

T-Mobile is fanfaring its WiFi hotspot service on the Heathrow Express train as a technology breakthrough. The company that installed the system is claiming a first for using WiMAX technology underground on the route. T-Mobile’s service, available to all, not just T-Mobile customers, promises broadband internet access at 2Mbps throughout the journey, including a 6km tunnel. But the service comes with health warnings, more of which later.

WiFi Hotspot access passes are sold on the trains for rates ranging from £5 for an hour up to £40 for 30 days. This compares to £2.95 for an hour on a GNER train, £9.95 for 24 hour access.

The aficionado of train WiFi might want to track the proceedings of Train Communications 2007 http://www.traincomms2007.com/ held in London on the 6th and 7th of June. The organisers concede that despite great progress in this sector and in the face of overwhelming public demand for such services, only a handful of train companies have so far managed to supply customers with an internet connection. This might be partly due to security worries.

The Times newspaper has uncovered evidence that criminals are using a technique known as an 'evil twin attack', where victims think that they are logging on to a genuine T-Mobile network but are in fact being diverted to a hacker’s connection. In the article T-Mobile said it was aware of the technique but hadn’t had any reported instances in the UK.

Security experts say that it would be hard for T-Mobile to spot this happening though. The security conscious might want to think twice about accessing critical data through these services which is a pity as WiFi hotspot broadband access is broadening all the time and is being offered free of charge to coach passengers.

Passengers on the Oxford Tube coach service can now access the Internet while they travel between the university city and London. Access is via Moovera Networks' mobile WiFi equipment and Vodafone 3G broadband network with access speeds of up to 1.4Mbps on the Stagecoach coaches.

Stagecoach says passengers have switched from the train to its Oxford Tube service to London after it offered customers free email and web access as part of the trial of WiFi technology. Around 4,500 users registered for the service during the three-month trial which was hailed a success – with more than 16,000 online sessions of an average duration of 42 minutes – and free WiFi access is now a permanent fixture. 

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