Tragedy of the wifi commons

Mar 16, 2008 19:22 · 341 words · 2 minute read

One of the gimmicks marketing ploys that National Express East Coast employed when they took over the East Coast rail service from GNER was to extend the onboard wifi service that GNER had introduced. Prior to the NXEC takeover, wifi onboard was free to first-class passengers, and a minimum of £4.95 an hour for those travelling in cattle standard class.

In the GNER days, the service wasn’t bad - the connection speed was generally slightly faster than you’d get using a 3G connection, and reasonably reliable. The technology behind the service was innovative, too, using a combination of GSM and 3G links to maintain a pretty robust connection in fairly hostile circumstances.

The downside if you were travelling in standard class was that you had to pay out for the service. When someone else was going to pick up the tab, I generally paid up - after all, £4.95 isn’t that much if you’re going to get something productive done as a result. In first class it was free, which meant that my Sunday night trips were usually productive - or at least less boring - ones.

Then along came NXEC, and threw open the service free for all. In the process, they took something which was pretty useful, and turned it into something which is actually worse than useless. Despite the increased usage, they haven’t increased either the backhaul bandwidth or the onboard infrastructure - which means that most of the time the throughput has dropped to single-figures of kbps, and ping times have increased to the point where the average is generally several seconds or more. And that’s if you can actually get onto the network in the first place - the DHCP scopes are often exhausted, and the authentication gateway regularly buckles under the strain and drops your connection, meaning you have to re-authenticate.

All of which means that travellers would actually be better off without the service at all, because of the time that gets wasted trying to get the connection working.

Technorati Tags: nationalexpress, nxec, trains