How does WiFi work on trains?

15th June 2016

WiFi onboard Virgin Trains

Some of our passengers prefer spending their journeys taking a power nap, getting lost in a good book, or watching the great British landscape whizz by. For many others, it’s a chance to ping a reply to a work email, send a few tweets or catch up on the latest news. When you’re travelling with us we want to make sure you’re comfy, well fed and watered, and that you can make the most of your time onboard - and we understand that in many cases that means a WiFi connection is essential.

We know that WiFi on our trains can be frustratingly slow at times which is why we’re investing in bringing our WiFi up to speed. We want to keep you in the loop with what we’re doing and also give you a bit of background about how WiFi works on our trains.

How does WiFi on trains work?

Currently, your device receives 3G from an onboard system that uses the everyday network of mobile phone masts. Each train is fitted with a number of Wireless Access Points that help to boost coverage across all of the coaches. These access points then connect to both satellite and telephone networks and the WiFi is ready to go.

As the train whizzes along at 125mph the signal strength can change a lot as it goes through rural areas where the coverage isn’t very good, which means you might experience a momentary cut in your connection. There are also some things we can’t change, such as going through tunnels, which are a classic WiFi killer.

Another challenge is bandwidth. Just like with your WiFi at home, we have a certain amount of bandwidth available, which can be quickly used up due to high demand, and the increasingly data-heavy nature of online content. With more people using the onboard WiFi every day and often connecting multiple devices at the same time (tablet, phone, laptop), our bandwidth can sometimes struggle to meet demand. Buffer face, anyone?

What’s the plan for the future?

Because we rely on the country’s existing network for our onboard WiFi connection, and to make it easier for you to use your travel time as work time, the UK Government announced in 2014 that an investment of more than £53 million is being made available to improve connection points along tracks and on trains.

Here at Virgin Trains we’ve been busy upgrading the technology on our Pendolino and Super Voyager trains to give you a smoother experience and are working hard to deliver enough bandwidth on our trains for all passengers to have free WiFi access, not only First Class.

These are big changes to the UK’s rail networks and will take some time and engineering work to make happen. We know how important this is to you, which is why we have rolled out free WiFi in our stations!

How do I access the WiFi onboard the train?

Sign up is simple. Once you have found our WiFi network, click ‘Connect Now’ and then you will be directed to the Virgin Trains start-up page. Choose from one of our various WiFi bundles and you’re all set!

BEAM: stream onboard entertainment, on us

We’ve recently launched a shiny new onboard entertainment service! BEAM lets you stream over 200 hours of blockbuster films, great TV and flick through the latest reads on your own devices – and the best bit is it’s completely on us. Because it uses an onboard computer on the train, our BEAM app doesn’t need to rely on the onboard WiFi. Find out more and see what’s on offer here: