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Friday, 19 August 2011

Review of WiFi on East Midlands Trains, Derby to London.

I recently travelled First Class from Derby to London on an East Midlands Train service.
By the way First Class does not cost a lot more than standard class if you book in advance and are flexible with your travel times, see my blog post on getting the cheapest first class train tickets.

Wi-Fi is available in all Carriages on East Midlands Trains services to and from St Pancras station.
In the 1st class Carriages the wifi service is FREE.

In Standard class you have to pay for wifi and its costs...

Per journey £4.00
Daily £7.50
Monthly £40.00
Annually £425

East Midlands Trains wifi service was launched in September 2010 but this was the first time I had been able to try it out.

If you have ever tried to use the Internet on your smartphone while on a moving train before then you will know that its not very reliable at all.
The GSM network is mainly geared up to cover highly populated areas. Train tracks, Particularly in the Derbyshire area tend to go through deep cuttings and tunnels so you tend to completely loose coverage or it will drop to Edge or GPRS for long periods of time.
If your a regular user of the Internet when using a 3G signal I'm sure you know how annoying it is when it drops down to a GPRS connection. Its like going onto a dial-up connection!

Using wifi on the train is certainly a lot better than trying to use your GSM connection for data.

The hardware that gives you wifi on the EMT service is provided by Nomad. It uses an R3500 router which aggregates multiple 3G networks from multiple GSM providers. You could tell this as my O2 signal kept going to No Service (see screen grab) but I was still able to surf the net so it must have been getting data from Everything Everywhere or Vodafone.
What this means it that it has several 3G SIMs on several operators (o2, Everything Everywhere, Vodafone) and it combines the data streams from all of these sources so it appears as one fast connection, this also allows for loss of signals from different operators as the train moves.
Passenger WiFi is available on East Midlands Trains entire 27 Meridian fleet and all 11 of their MKIII HSTs.

How to use the wifi on a 1st class EMT service.
On an iPhone you can see that if you scan for wifi it shows up as "EastMidlandsTrain_WiFi" (See screen grab of WifiTrak).

I don't think it allowed me to connect to it from here even though its open, I tried several times but it would not allow connection.
However if you goto your web browser and connect to the wifi from there it will automatically redirect your page to a landing page that asks you to enter your name, email etc, once you click submit you are now able to use the free wifi. In standard class you get a different webpage:

Can you use iPlayer via the wifi on EMT service?
The answer is no!
I tried several times to watch Torchwood using the BBC iPlayer (iPhone) using the wifi but unfortunately the best I could get was about 5 seconds of footage before it stopped and rebuffered. I tried several times during the 1 Hour 33 Min journey. Because it requires a nice stream of data to play video it clearly did not
like the fact that the speed was up and down. Youtube was a bit better but kept downgrading its quality down to 240p for the same reason.

What download/upload speeds do you get?
See my screen grab of the Speedtest.net (OOkla) application. This shows the download and upload speeds as well as ping test six times.
I ran the speedtest a few times during the journey to London as you can see the download speed was not very good, generally quite low, It increased as the train got down south.
Upload speed was a lot better, not sure why that is. It almost snapped the digital needle off when it tested the upload speed as you can see 16Mb/s at 2:13pm !

Notice in the screen grab that I have No Service on my o2 sim but the speedtest shows over 2Mb download speed.
The main problem with the wifi service was that the speed was very Sporadic. Handy to have for free in 1st class but thats about it.

Is it worth paying for?
In first class you get wifi for free so I was not too bothered about the erratic service but if I was paying £425 a year for it I don't think I would be too happy! I guess it depends what you need wifi for, its certainly handy to have access and better than if you had a laptop with a 3G dongle.

Another thing I noticed, previously on trains when you use the Mapping application on the iPhone it shows your current location moving in real time along
the railway line but if you are using the wifi provided in the train then it does not move from where you set off, I guess this is because
the iPhone can no longer use triangulation from the GSM antennas and it can't get a GPS lock.

Note : If you have a First Class Advance Ticket then you also get free wifi and entry into the First Class lounges These are located at St Pancras, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Derby and East Midlands Parkway. The exception to this rule is 4pm-8pm at St Pancras where you have to pay a £5 surcharge.
The First Class lounges are open Monday to Friday and have free Tea/Coffee, newspapers and snacks (and the free wifi of course).

Hope you found this of interest.


  1. Great post..How does the Wifi know if you are in First Class or Cattle Class? What is to stop you standing in the First Class vestibule (actually my favourite place to squat when the train is full!) and picking up the free Wifi?

    1. Nothing is to stop you. I do it all the time. Just sit in the 1st class visibule in the cattle seating and you can get it free.

  2. I am a frequent commuter on East Midlands trains and often find that I have a 3g connection all the way from Chesterfield to London in the older carriages (barring tunnels). However, on the newer Pendelino style trains I get more or less get no signal until I get into stations.

  3. I guess they mask the "First Class" wifi from leaking out, after all that would be lost revenue.