Press release:

Signal failure: nine in 10 rail commuters cut off by connectivity issues

  • Nine in 10 rail commuters (86%) have had issues connecting to the internet on their mobile phones while on the move[1]
  • Over half (56%) of struggle to connect to their mobile network on 3G or 4G[2]
  • Furthermore, train Wi-Fi is not up to scratch, with two thirds (66%) finding it difficult to connect[2]
  • Two thirds (66%) of commuters are frustrated by their lack of connectivity[3]
  • Social media (47%), streaming music (39%) and email (35%) are the most popular online activities while commuting[4]
  • uSwitch.com calls on the telecoms industry to improve its infrastructure and connectivity nationwide, particularly along commuter belts.

After rising rail fares[5] and longer average travel times[6], there’s more bad news for train passengers. New research by uSwitch.com, the price comparison and switching service, reveals that a staggering nine in ten (86%) rail users struggle to connect to the internet on their mobile phones[1] on their commute to work.

Nearly six in 10 (56%) rail passengers have trouble connecting to their mobile’s data signal – be it 3G or 4G. And unfortunately, instead of plugging the connectivity gap, Wi-Fi on trains is letting commuters down, with two thirds (66%) complaining they have been unable to connect to it[2]. More than half of rail commuters (54%) have experienced phone calls dropping out and over a third (38%) have been unable to send text messages[2].

On a regional level, travellers on rail lines in Scotland and northern England are more likely to complain about patchy mobile data reception, with nearly nine in 10 (87%) encountering issues across all forms of transport, whereas those in the midlands are least likely to do so – although it still affects three quarters of commuters (77%)[7].

While the traditional thought of commuting brings up images of suited office workers getting ahead of their day with some early morning work, in fact the majority use this travel time for scrolling through social media (47%) or catching up with friends on messaging apps (39%)[4]. Two thirds (35%) catch up on emails, 20% work and one in ten (11%) use their commutes to finish off the weekly shop[4], making a patchy or unusable internet connection all the more disruptive.

Unsurprisingly, rail commuters cited ‘frustration’ as the most commonly experienced emotion when facing connectivity issues (66%), followed by ‘unhappiness’ (27%) and ‘stress’ (22%)[3].

Ru Bhikha, mobiles expert at uSwitch.com, says: “In a world where we are constantly striving to be ‘always on’, it’s understandably jarring to suddenly find yourself cut off.

“Our smartphones allow us to maximise the efficiency with which we tackle ‘life admin’, so watching an endless loading wheel while trying to order our weekly shop on the train home can be especially frustrating.

“Recognising this, train operators have made the effort to provide customers with Wi-Fi access points, so commuters can pass the time streaming video, music, browsing social media or getting a head start on work.

“But these Wi-Fi connections are rarely as fast or reliable as the broadband people enjoy at home, which limits the performance of data-demanding apps and services people have become accustomed to using all the time. On top of that, free networks which aren’t password protected are increasingly susceptible to fraud – it doesn’t take much for a potential hacker to mimic the name of a train network, encouraging the user to route all their unencrypted and sensitive data through this phony hotspot.

“Combined with the fact that  many rail operators have introduced time limits caps – some of which are as little as 15 minutes – means that these WI-FI networks are often both unfit for purpose and a possible security hazard[8].

“This, coupled with patchy 3G or 4G reception en-route, can make for frustratingly intermittent connectivity during the morning commute.

“Both network providers and rail operators should work together to deliver the infrastructure needed to serve the vital arteries carrying Britain’s workforce.”

Find out how you could save over £1,000 a year with uSwitch here.

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Notes to editors

Opinium surveyed a sample of 1,001 UK adults from the 14th to 19th December 2018. Results have been weighted to reflect a nationally representative criteria.

  1. Of those who have had connectivity issues, a net total of 86% of train commuters said they have been previously unable to connect to their phone’s 3G / 4G or to the Wi-Fi.
  2. Respondents were asked ‘Which connectivity issues have you experienced while travelling to and from work?’ and ‘Which mode(s) of transport do you use to travel to work?’ Of those who said they travelled by train:

66% said they had been ‘Unable to connect to Wi-Fi’

56 % said they had been ‘Unable to connect to my phone’s 3G/4G’

54% said they experienced ‘Phone calls dropping out’

43% said they had been ‘Unable to make phone calls’

38% said they had been ‘Unable to send or receive SMS messages

  1. Respondents were asked ‘Which of the below describes your emotions when you experience connectivity issues with your mobile phone whilst on your commute?’ and ‘Which mode(s) of public transport do you use to travel to work?’ Of those who answered ‘Train’ to the latter:

66% said they felt ‘Frustrated’

27% said they felt ‘Unhappy’

22% said they felt ‘Stressed out’

21% said they felt ‘Bored’

20% said they felt ‘Angry’

9% said they felt ‘Nonplussed’

6% said they felt ‘Bemused’

3% said they felt ‘Happy’

4% said they felt ‘Relieved’

5% selected ‘None of these’

1% selected ‘Don’t know’

  1. Respondents were asked ‘What do you use your smartphone for on your commute?’ and ‘Which mode(s) of public transport do you use to travel to work?’. Of those who answered ‘Train’ to the latter:

47% said they used their smartphone for ‘Social media’

39% said they used their smartphone for ‘Listening to music, radio or podcasts’

35% said they used their smartphone for ‘Personal correspondence’

31% said they used their smartphone for ‘Reading’

22% said they used their smartphone for ‘Shopping (clothes, presents, etc)

20% said they used their smartphone for ‘Catching up on work’

13% said they used their smartphone for ‘Watching television and film’

11% said they used their smartphone for ‘Groceries (e.g. Ocado)

2% said they used their smartphone for ‘Other’

2% said they used their smartphone for ‘N/A I don’t have a smartphone’

5% selected ‘N/A I don’t use my smartphone on my commute’

Required Spotify speeds listed as 96kbps here. An hour of HD streaming on Netflix uses 3GB of data, which works out as 6.67Mbps. Browsing, including social media and shopping, estimated at 3Mbps, with emails only requiring 1Mbps.

  1. Source: National Rail, January 2019
  2. Source: ONS, November 2018
  3. Respondents were asked: ‘Which connectivity issues have you experienced while travelling to and from work?’ 87% of those living in Scotland and regions in the north of England answered, they’d been unable to to connect to WiFi or 3G/4G. 77% of those living in the midlands answered, they’d been unable to to connect to WiFi or 3G/4G.
  4. http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations_destinations/44866.aspx

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