Study reveals half of UK train commuters face poor and unreliable mobile connectivity
Cobham Wireless, providers of mobile communications systems, reports that commuters are frustrated with the state of mobile signal reception on train journeys up and down the UK. Results of a national online survey indicate that 52% of passengers are prevented from working some of the time during their commute, potentially stopping them from being able to check emails, stay in touch with clients and colleagues or access files remotely.
The survey, conducted by YouGov, which polled over 2,000 consumers across Britain revealed passengers’ frustrations about the lack of mobile connectivity during their commute or business trip, which was preventing them from working on train journeys. The survey canvassed the opinions of commuters that use train routes throughout the UK, with half of their journeys lasting longer than 30 minutes.
Despite the option to use Wi-Fi on some train services the results of the survey clearly indicated a strong preference among respondents (51%) to connecting to the internet via their mobile provider compared to connecting to a public Wi-Fi network (36%). When asked why they prefer to connect to the internet using their mobile service, a resounding 63% expressed concerns about the security of Wi-Fi networks on trains; also 41% disliked having to share personal information to connect to train Wi-Fi.
The survey also revealed that the quality of mobile phone reception on trains up and down the UK varies.
Only 33% of passengers felt that mobile signal reception was good enough to connect them to the internet.
Up to a quarter (24%) didn’t rate their service at all, stating that mobile phone coverage was poor.
Even train Wi-Fi doesn’t make the grade:
Only 13% of commuters stating that the service was any good.
Another 22% stated that Wi-Fi wasn’t available at all on their train route.
Ingo Flömer, Director of Product Management, Cobham Wireless said: “The research has revealed that in these hyper connected times the majority of commuters expect to be able to connect to the internet on trains via their mobile service provider. Unfortunately, because of a lack of mobile phone coverage passengers find it difficult to work during their business commute, unable to browse the internet, send emails, or even make phone calls.
“On-board Wi-Fi doesn’t live up to expectations either. Rail passengers would much rather stay connected to the internet via their mobile service because it’s more secure and more convenient to use. This is good news for mobile operators and the rail companies looking to improve the standard of service they offer to their customers, giving them the opportunity to satisfy the demand for better quality mobile coverage on trains,” added Flomer.
He concluded: “Passengers are already frustrated with disruptions to rail services caused by delays, industrial action and maintenance, with major works taking place at Waterloo station in London and on services between Cardiff and Newport. These frustrations are compounded by train fares increasing year on year. The results of the study are clear, more investment in mobile phone coverage would go a long way to improving passenger’s train journey experience and ensure they stay connected to work during their busy commute.”
By listening to the signal your phone broadcasts as it searches for Wi-Fi networks, Presence Orb wants to provide an anonymised data stream showing where everyone is in real-time
“When you go to [Facebook] Places and it says ‘x’ people were here? That’s a useless statistic,” says Thomas Sheppard, co-founder of Presence Orb. “I don’t care how many people have been there, I want to know how many people are there now.”
Presence Orb could have the potential to finally give location-based services the kick they have been waiting for. By listening to the signal your smartphone broadcasts as it searches for Wi-Fi networks, the hope is that it will provide an anonymised and aggregated open data stream showing, effectively, where everyone is in real-time.
Imagine Citymapper not only telling you when your bus will arrive, but how full it is and the likelihood of enough people getting off at your stop to allow you to squeeze on. With Presence Orb’s software installed on the ever-increasing number of public Wi-Fi hotspots, you could know exactly how busy a bar will be before you and your date arrive.
Online shops are already able to access a wealth of information about their consumers. When you a visit a website, cookies can provide that site with information about what sites you previously visited, what items you have been viewing on Amazon and what you like on Facebook. The smartphone itself is fast becoming a huge opportunity for brick and mortar retailers too though.
Innovations like Apple’s iBeacon, and the businesses taking advantage of it, are helping highstreet stores level the playing the field. Now when you walk into a physical shop, your phone has the power to give the retailer a similar amount of information as they would receive if you visited online: when you last visited, how long you spend in the store, and targeted product advertising, for example.
“Privacy is significant concern for consumers,” Swirl CEO Hilmi Ozguz tells Wired.co.uk via email. “But we’ve found that 77 percent of consumers would willingly share their location information with a retailer if they received clear value in return.”
Before moving into the retail industry, Presence Orb started out as a home security system. If an unfamiliar smartphone entered your home, presumably in the pocket of a burglar, Presence Orb would detect it and alert you to the intruder. The “clear value” in this case was obvious, but there was a serious flaw.
“The minute that a robber got wind of this, they’re just going to switch off their phone,” says Sheppard.
The team soon re-engineered their idea for advertising and retail, joining a string of companies working in the space, including Swirl, shopkick and inMarket. One US advertiser, RedPost, is using Presence Orb to improve the sale of newspapers.
“There was 500 people footfall in the store, and they knew 30 newspapers were purchased. They didn’t know there was 500 footfall previously. We’re now showing them what the potential market is,” says Sheppard.
Their relationship with another client, Renew London, which operated recycling bins featuring advertising screens in the City of London, was to prove controversial.
In October, Renew London fell into administration. After investigating, the ICO found that “no further action” needed to be taken and said that Renew London’s data collection was “a proof-of-concept trial which used aggregate data” and therefore didn’t involve any personal data.
During the controversy, Sheppard declined to comment and Presence Orb largely stayed out of the spotlight. Now, speaking publically on the issue for the first time, he strikes a humble tone.
“Once bitten twice shy is a phrase that comes to mind,” says Sheppard. “Consumers will dictate how this technology advances.”
Soon after the outrage subsided, Presence Orb’s six-month residency at Cisco’s accelerator lab in London wrapped up. The company returned to its base in Harrogate, Yorkshire, and went back to the drawing board. The Renew London debacle convinced them they needed to make their technology as anonymous as possible. Today, it says, it’s “extremely difficult” if not impossible to recover individual data after it has been aggregated and anonymised soon after being recorded. It’s also dropped its old tagline, “A Cookie For The Real World”, explaining that it gave the wrong impression that Presence Orb was saving a file on people’s phones.
There is understandable scepticism about any service that records personal information. On the security side, the Heartbleed bug has reminded the public that there is no such thing as a completely secure computer system. When it comes to anonymous information, the Care.data debacle has shown the potential for information to be deanonymised when compared with other data sets.
Sheppard says Presence Orb records the bare minimum amount of data in order to provide an aggregate picture of groups, not individuals, and that the identification of specific devices would only ever be with the explicit consent of the owner in an opt-in model.
Over in the US, Swirl’s CEO Hilmi Ozguz is clear that consumer consent is vital. “Consumers also want control when it comes to sharing their information, so gaining explicit opt-in permission upfront is key to maintaining trust.”
If we can get used to the idea that our smartphones can be passively detected, the impact on society of technology like Presence Orb could be transformative. Companies like Waze have used the aggregate data of the crowd to improve city traffic with huge economic benefits. An open data stream showing the location of crowds in cities could change how we make decisions about where to eat, drink and travel.
And if you want to opt-out, it is as easy as turning off the Wi-Fi on your phone.