Open access train operator unveils UK and world firsts in connectivity, infotainment and sign up



Hull Trains has upgraded its on-train Wi-Fi internet service, offering passengers a series of UK transport industry first benefits through its mobile app.

The free service is the first 4G-enabled Wi-Fi application to be launched by a UK train operator – and offers significantly better connectivity and faster download speeds.

It also provides the first ‘near live’ airing of TV programmes on a UK rail service and a world-first single sign up (SSU) capability for any transport service.

The SSU function means users only have to register and log in once. They can then use the internet automatically on any Hull Trains journey without having to log in again each time they make a new trip. They also remain logged in if a train hits an internet blackspot on the route, so that they can continue using the internet seamlessly when a connection resumes.

Hull Trains managing director Will Dunnett said the aim was to provide onboard internet access closer to the experience people expect from home broadband. “Passenger feedback demonstrates they require a better service,” he commented.

The upgrade to 4G provides download and upload speeds which are  typically around nine times faster than the previous 3G onboard capability. The enhancement of the service has also seen an overall growth of 37% bandwidth availability per user.

Connectivity throughout the journey has been improved through a partnership with The Cloud, the UK’s largest public Wi-Fi provider. The system uses intelligent Wi-Fi selection to access the best connection available and is designed to enable passengers to have free access to all of The Cloud’s 22,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. In addition, the partnership means the SSU capability is available at a number of stations and nearby waiting places, including some big brand coffee shops, where The Cloud Wi-Fi hotspots are available.

Although the 4G upgrade offers significantly enhanced speed and access to high data downloads and uploads, bandwidth availability still has to be managed with blocks on some internet activity. The increased bandwidth availability per customer is partly due to some customers preferring to watch ITV programmes stored on the local on-train server.

ITV shows available through the mobile app include popular dramas such as Coronation Street and Frost. A total of 40 hours’ on-demand content is available to passengers at any time with 20 hours of new programming made available each week. The content is supplied to station servers and then uploaded to train servers during station stops. Shows can be viewed onboard for the first time 30 minutes after live airing on terrestrial TV begins.

The mobile app’s ‘infotainment’ function also includes adverts for local facilities close to stations on the route such as restaurants and hotels.

Lauren McKenzie, digital customer engagement manager at First Rail Holdings, owner of Hull Trains, told Passenger Transport that First expected to roll the 4G service out to its other rail franchises and also bus services once sufficient experience had been gained.

Virgin Trains is planning to offer a similar 4G capability next year, before upgrading the service again to allow a further increase in speeds and live streaming when Network Rail provides the necessary lineside infrastructure.


Project partners:

  • First Hull Trains – open access train operator
  • The Cloud – UK’s largest provider of Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Icomera – mobile internet connectivity specialist
  • CAPmedia – developer of the systems and software to allow access to TV content
  • AirSense Wireless – provider of technology to enable connection to Wi-Fi hotspots


4G service improvements:

  • Typical Downloads Speeds: (3G) 2mbps, (4G) up to 100mbps
  • Typical Upload Speeds: (3G) 1-2mbps, (4G) 12mbps
  • 3G onboad data usage: 35.83MB per user
  • 4G onboard data usage: 57MB per user


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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