Wi-Fi in NS trains, money for nothing?

When I was reading the article “I just had Wi-Fi!” by 333194ep on this blog, it emerged to me that not only at the university my devices struggle to connect properly with the available Wi-Fi network.

In 2010 the Dutch Railways (NS) started unroll free Wi-Fi in their intercity trains. The original plan was to offer Wi-Fi in all the Arriva and NS intercity trains from 2012, this deadline has been shifted to the end of 2013. The Dutch government subsidized this project with €15 million. The contract between NS and T-Mobile ended in April 2013, but was extended for another year. People feared for being charged, but NS confirmed that Wi-Fi will remain free in 2013 (NRC, 2013)(Tweakers.net, 2013).

When in the train, my mobile internet connection is usually very slow due to factors like the overhead lines or the frequent change of towers where my phone connects to (T-Mobile Forum, 2013). Therefore I liked Wi-Fi in the train, it sounds good! Another year free Wi-Fi in the train? Sounds even better! But how happy should we be with this free service? My own experiences are not that good. The Wi-Fi signal itself is very good usually, but the speed of the data transfer is terribly slow. Searching on the internet (like 333194ep, at home with a good connection), I found people expressing the same complaints.

Research done by the University of Twente and Agentschap Telecom (2012) showed that the efficiency of Wi-Fi in some cases drops below 20 percent in crowded  environments with multiple networks and even more devices trying to connect. This reason might be the cause for the slow Wi-Fi connection I experience in the NS trains. In most cases I will turn my 3G internet connection back on because that is even faster than the provided Wi-Fi.

The researchers of the University of Twente and Agentschap Telecom call for a new Wi-Fi standard which can cope better with the busy scenarios. This made me think of the following question:

“is NS throwing money down the drain for nothing, by investing any further in a Wi-Fi network that is inefficient?”

What do you guys think? Of course, not only the inefficiency of the network should be taken into consideration. Also the upcoming 4G networks as mentioned in the blog “4G replacing our home internet connection” by Niels Diepens should be thought of. 








5 responses to “Wi-Fi in NS trains, money for nothing?”

  1. joelflo says :

    This was an interesting post, which I think many can relate to. In today’s society, having access to the internet is of crucial importance, not only for free-time use but also for work – and I think it might be this aspect that led the government to subzide the installment of Wi-Fi on trains.

    The Dutch labor productivity per hour is around $60 (http://www.conference-board.org/data/economydatabase/#GDP_perHourWorked). Let’s assume that the average Dutch worker works 200 days per year.

    If 100 000 businesspeople spend an hour a day on NS trains, and we assume that thanks to the internet they are able to work at 80% of their capacity instead of say 30%, that means a GDP increase of 100 000 * (0,8-0,3) * $60 * 200 = 600 000 000 dollars per year. Since we make a lot of assumptions here this might be a gross exaggeration, but nevertheless – the benefits of getting the Wi-Fi infrastructure in place are probably a lot higher than the costs.

    Even though it is nice to watch streamed movies or transfer large files, it does not add that much to productivity. It may thus be wrong to call the Wi-Fi network “inefficient”, and as I understand, it will probably still take time before sufficient 4G infrastructure is in place to replace Wi-Fi networks.

    (I have used the Wi-Fi on NS a couple of times, and I’ve been satisfied so far :))

  2. jimwittermans says :

    As the previous commenter pointed out, an interesting post!

    From my personal experience I can say that I haven’t had a lot of problems with the Wi-Fi in the NS trains (I don’t travel by train a lot these days), but the main point you bring up, the slowness / capacity of the network seems to be a problem on the trains. NS’ main target for WiFi on the train was to get businesses to benefit more from getting their employees take the train, but that seems to be a less successful target so far.

    The upcoming 4G technology (and even 5G in a year) will offer a lot of possibilities for both internet and phone providers. If WiFi does not come up with new technologies that offer fast or more efficient internet, the phone technologies will most likely take over this market as well, as the difference in speed and capacity is quickly lowering.

    While no one is able to predict what is going to happen to these technologies in the future, it is interesting to keep an eye on the subject!


  3. rbavisschedijk says :

    My experiences with WIFI in the trains differ a lot.

    When I go from Rotterdam Central to Delft for instance, it’s more handy to stay connected to my mobile phone because I first have log in to the Wifi connection and the my travel isn’t that long. Furthermore my experience is also that the WIFI internet connection during this travel is of less quality than my mobile internet connection.

    However when I go to my parents who live in Deventer (in the east of the Netherlands and crossing a distance of approximately 140 kilometers) I really prefer to use the WIFI connection from the NS. The connection is far more stable than my mobile connection (between the cities amersfoort and apeldoorn the connection with my provider is really terrible) and I guess since the train isn’t that crowdy the speed of the internet is of an acceptable level to work with.

    So in conclusion I would say that the value of the WIFI connection in trains depends how good the mobile providers are in their coverage in a certain area, how long your journey is since you have to log in and how crowded it is in the train (since I assume that the more crowded the less speed the connection has).

    I think that the NS should investigate in which areas and on which trains it will have added value and should focus on those trains/areas.

  4. 343078gd says :

    I usually travel in the intercity betwen Leiden Centraal and Rotterdam, which is quite a busy trajectory. Very often connection is very slow. However, I think the WiFi has improved in the trains. In the beginning, my phone often wouldn’,t even connect to the WiFi router, or no internet page would load at all. Nowadays, this does not really happen a lot, but the quality is still not very high. I think NS should focus on improving the connection on the busy trajectories. This will probably improve user satisfaction a lot.

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