It has been a while since Sneak travelled by train. Ah, watching the countryside fly by in a blur of greens and browns and blues, the smell of half toasted paninis and weak coffee wafting down the carriage, there surely is no finer way to get from A to B. And for those of us lucky enough to travel on the National Express east coast franchise, free Wi-Fi. Yup, free it has been for just over a year now. So you would expect them to have sorted out any teething troubles.
Set-up is easy, with connection to the NXEC Wi-Fi network and registration taking just minutes but, sadly, that's the last positive thing Sneak has to say about the service. After managing to load a total of three web pages during the 80 minute journey to somewhere-in-the-North, Sneak gave up. Although signal strength was, according to my laptop, excellent or very good throughout, the connection speed hovered somewhere between dial-up and the epically poor service I get with my WAP phone.
Now last year, vnunet.com reported Wi-Fi usage tripling on National Express trains, with the company even picking up an award for innovation for its efforts to offer all passengers high speed internet access. It may even have swayed many to choose the train over the plane, given the productivity gains your average business traveller could make with internet access. Well, "pah!" is all Sneak has to say. It would be interesting to know how many of the estimated 85 per cent+ passengers with laptops who have eagerly logged on find themselves suckered with the same kind of abysmal service.
According to NXEC, the service is provided by a combination of a satellite and multiple 3G/HSDPA mobile networks. Cannily, said company does not advertise data speeds. Instead, its in-train magazine reveals:
"Due to the nature of the mobile connections the speed will fluctuate depending on your geographic location and the number of users on the service. However, you should always enjoy a faster service than using a PC mobile data card."
"Wireless Internet: Your Gateway to the World", screams the Wi-Fi guide. Well, next time I'll just take a book.
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