13 May 2016

No, that’s not a typo in the title. Let me explain…

Train station at sunset

If you follow me on social media, you might have noticed I’ve been in London this week, attending the SpiceWorld IT conference.

Still reeling from the amazing energy of so many great engineers and marketeers talking about the future of tech, I took the train back to Manchester on Wednesday morning. I’ve noticed connectivity problems before, but this time, boarding my train felt like taking ten steps back! Trying to send emails or make a simple call with my team while traveling on the train proved impossible, because of the great lack of connection in the ‘not-spot’ that pretty much exists for the entire two-hour journey.

With all the talk about HS1 and HS2, and now even HS3, why is nobody talking about this poor connectivity? As much as we need high-speed trains, I believe we need high-speed IT even more. We live in a world where people can work remotely from anywhere in the world, yet being connected while traveling on the country’s main business rail links appears to be almost impossible.

People often mention the economic gap between London and the Northern Powerhouse, but why is nobody working towards fixing this gap of wasted travel time in between? How many lost working hours can be put down to a lack of connectivity on these trains? It must be hundreds of thousands a year. The government should spend taxpayers’ hard-earned money where they are likely to experience the most uplift. Personally, I would rather take a two-hour train and be able to work, than a one-hour train that stops me from doing so.

If we want Manchester to become a global digital hub and the UK to remain a strong competitor with other economies, our digital infrastructure needs to be so much better. When people are encouraged to do business in all of the great cities of our country, they should be able to do some work when they travel in between them.

I’m aware that some work is already being carried out to lay the foundations for better connectivity in future, but these changes are not currently any help for all the incredibly annoying not-spots and slow-spots for mobile coverage all over the country.

Nearly 15% of the UK has no mobile signal at all and the reason behind this is mostly an economic one. Mobile operators place masts in locations that reach the biggest number of customers, so they’re not frequently found near rail lines. I don’t think it’s a difficult problem to fix until a better infrastructure is in place; antennas on top of trains aggregate mobile network signals and digital on-board repeaters amplify external mobile signals within carriages. Surely, enabling people to make calls and continue to do business while traveling would make full economic sense?

There have been so many developments over recent years and it’s even possible to use wifi on international flights, so why does it take so long to improve the connectivity of our public transport? The government really needs to step up and get this HSIT sorted!

Have you felt the frustration of bad signal on trains? What impact does this have on your business?

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