Wifi in Hospitals


This post is for the myriad of people who come to my blog looking for information on how to get online while they are in hospital. I am really sorry, that I probably won’t be able to help you.

I’ve been running the Campaign for Free Wifi in Hospitals for a number of years now. We have a Facebook Group here, and I did get a small amount of funding for the cause about three years ago. Oh, and there is a self-populating list of hospitals with wifi here. My unscientific estimate is that slightly more than a third of NHS hospitals in the UK now how wifi which is accessible to patients, sometimes free, but not always, whereas, as far as I know, 100% of private hospitals have free patient wifi.

But, I really feel for the people who come to my blog looking for information on how to connect to the outside world while they are in hospital. It is incredibly frustrating, I know, not being able to keep in touch with family, friends, and work while in a hospital ward. I wish there was more I can do. We need a co-ordinated approach to this, but no one with resources seems interested.

9th March 2014:  I’m updating this post with news of a major positive breakthrough https://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/wifi-for-hospital-patients-a-major-breakthrough/

An Open Letter to the Managing Director of Cross Country Trains

Dear Mr. Cooper

Internet Connectivity and Mobile Phone Signals on Voyager Trains

Cross Country Voyager Train

A Cross Country Voyager Train - Image courtesy John Grey Turner http://www.flickr.com/photos/johngreyturner/

I am writing to you to ask if you can please do something about Internet connectivity and mobile phone signals on your Voyager Trains. I write following two particularly frustrating journeys; from Leeds to Bristol Temple Meads on 25th January, and Bristol Temple Meads to Manchester on 26th January, when neither of the devices I normally carry with me for Internet connectivity on the move, a Vodafone dongle and a Mifi mobile wifi unit on the Three network, could get anything more than fleeting signals. I am a regular user of Cross Country trains, most frequently between Leeds / Wakefield and my office in Sheffield, but also on longer journeys too.

I travel a lot in my job, and, partly because I live within walking distance of Huddersfield station, partly because I believe in keeping driving to a minimum in the interests of saving the planet, but mainly because I can work on the move rather than treating travel as “dead time”, I nearly always travel by train. I firmly believe that efforts need to be made to attract more people out of their cars and on to the train, and that making the travel experience more like a mobile office could be a key factor in this.

I travel regularly on East Coast Trains between Leeds and London, and find the free wifi offered on those services to be a great help, even though actual connectivity to the Internet can be patchy. I also note Virgin Trains’ introduction of wifi on its West Coast services, although I believe that the fact that there is a charge for this is a powerful disincentive for most people. Personally, I think free wifi on trains has to be the way forward and is the main way to create the mobile office on rails.

The Cross Country Voyagers are the trains I have the most problems with connectivity on. And I know it is the Voyagers which are the issue, because there are no such problems when using your refurbished HSTs on my usual route between Leeds and Sheffield. Now, I realise that Voyagers are designed to be very safe trains, and, I of course, welcome that, but it is evident that, with safety also comes the inability of mobile phone signals to penetrate into the carriage. Virgin had the same issue on its West Coast Pendolinos and has addressed this by placing signal boosters in the carriages. I now find that I often get an near unbroken 3G signal when traveling from Manchester to London on Virgin services, which means I have an alternative to using the (paid for) wifi.

So, my request to you is, can you please consider introducing signal boosters into Voyager carriages. Free wifi would be great, and if you would consider it, that would be an extra incentive to the mobile office worker. But, if wifi is a step too far at this stage, please look at 3G signal boosters similar to those adopted by Virgin, I am convinced that this would be an important tool in driving up business use of your services and would pay for itself over not too long a period.

No signal on Mifi on Voyager Train

No signal on Mifi on Voyager Train

I know there are lots of people who feel the same as me, as is evidenced by replies to my blog post on the issue (https://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2009/11/05/campaign-for-better-connectivity-on-trains/) by the many comments of people who use the #uktrain hashtag on Twitter (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23uktrain) and other people I come across in my travels. In the modern age, people need to stay connected to their networks to operate efficiently, and it is immensely frustrating to lose this connectivity for long periods while traveling on your train services.

I would be grateful for a reply indicating whether this is something you are prepared to look into.

With best regards

Launch of Signal – the Swindon Wifi Network

Yesterday (16th December 2009) I attended the launch of Signal, the district-wide wifi network for Swindon. Well, actually, I missed the main event. It was always going to be a tall order to get to Swindon and back in a day, but two cancelled trains and two that were both half an hour late on the outward journey meant I missed the main launch. Nevertheless, I was able to have some interesting chats with a number of people involved in the initiative, following on from a previous discussion I had with Rikki Hunt, the Chief Executive of Digital City UK, the company which is implementing the network.

I have come across some skeptical views about the initiative, some people think it’s a distraction from the inevitable race to install fibre networks everywhere, others just think it will never work because wifi networks have been installed elsewhere and have not worked. Rikki and his colleagues are adamant, nevertheless, that they have learned all the lessons of previous initiatives, and their modern, robust infrastructure will deliver their aim of 20Mb/s synchronous connections across the area, including the rural communities.

A key feature of the Swindon initiative is the intention to give everyone free access to the network for 2 hours per day. This is an experiment worth watching as it could be a major driver for digital inclusion. There are ambitious plans to use the network to increase the uptake of digital public services, and there will be offers allowing householders and businesses to add other services such as home security and energy monitoring to their basic broadband package. Another interesting aspect of local plans, is the launch of a local branded phone SIM card, which will enable free phone calls within the district.

The launch event took place at Highworth Library. The first part of the network went live around Highworth, which is a village some 7 miles or so from the town of Swindon, thus demonstrating the ability of the network to reach into rural areas. The plan is for the whole of the district to be covered by the middle of 2010.

Teachers and students from the local school were invited to learn more about the implementation of the network, and I was able to film part of a discussion between Rikki Hunt (on the right of shot), his colleague Mustafa Arif (left of shot), and John Saunders, Head Teacher (second from left), and Philip Manghorn (Head of ICT) of Highworth Warneford School.

I think there may be some particularly exciting opportunities to experiment in an area where school students will be able to access material in school, in their homes, and on the move in between them.

Later in the day, members of the local community were invited to learn about the new network and discuss their concerns and queries with those involved. I filmed part of a lively discussion between Rikki Hunt and some interested local residents.

I aim to keep in touch with the development of this exciting and interesting initiative. It’s launch came on the same day that Manchester Digital Development Agency went public on the experiments it is doing with making free wifi available in the city centre. So, this approach may well be spreading.



I travel around a lot in my job, and I prefer to travel by train if I can, because I live near a railway station, and I can work on a train in a way that is just not possible if you are sat behind the wheel of a car.


I have been intrigued, if perhaps not a little disturbed, by the reactions of people who follow me on Twitter to the fact that a lot of my tweets are from trains. A guy called Peter Hindle (@petehindle), who I have only physically met once, invented the #uktrain hashtag and dedicated it to me, so I suppose I ought to look after it. In the last few years I have gone from being someone who drove 60,000 miles a year, to someone whose car is mainly used as Dad’s Taxi, and I have come to feel quite strongly that we should all use public transport if we can. That is not to say that the UK public transport system is anything like fit-for-purpose, and I don’t really go near buses unless I really, really have to.

Any way, I had this really mad idea for #uktrain radio – the basics of which is that someone (maybe me) sits in the corner of a railway carriage broadcasting live on the Internet (good luck with that on most trains, even on the ones that have free wifi) and interviewing random passengers.

A mad idea, I thought. But then a couple of people said they thought it was not that mad.

Please, please tell me it’s insane and impractical……

Do I need an iPhone

I need some help deciding what to do about my phone situation. Can people of the interweb solve my dilemma for me.

I have two phones, a work and a personal one. The work one is a BlackBerry Bold, and I am very happy with that. It does all sorts of wizzy things, has 3G and wifi (unlike most BlackBerrys), and is brilliant for sorting out email on the move. The one down-side is the pretty poor 2MP camera.

Until very recently, my personal phone was a BlackBerry Curve. To be honest, I was talked into getting this by an over-zealous salesman, I have never used its email function, and, without 3G or Wifi, I found it pretty limited. The only real advantage was being able to text quickly using the QWERTY keyboard. So I was quite happy recently when I was given a discarded Nokia N95, which I could immediately see was a much better prospect than the BB Curve, particularly as it has 3G and Wifi and is capable of playing BBC iPlayer content (in theory, I haven’t got this to work yet), watching TV streamed from my Slingbox (this does work very well and has allowed me to catch some crucial bits of the West Indies v England cricket test series while on the move), streaming live radio from BBC stations and direct downloading podcasts. A key thing which attracted me to the N95 was the possibility of having a half decent (5MP) camera in my pocket with the ability to upload photos directly, via Wifi or 3G, to Flickr, Twitpic or elsewhere.

And so, just as I am getting used to my new toy, and liking it (except for the frustration of having to relearn texting from a normal phone keypad), a spanner in the works. I learn that I am now eligble for a “free” upgrade to an iPhone.

So, do I abandon my new toy and replace it with an iPhone? I am liking the N95, and reluctant to give it up. But I know lots of people with iPhones and have coveted one from afar, and not so far, for a while. BUT, the iPhone’s camera is not great; there is, as yet, no client for the Slingbox on the iPhone, and, from what I can gather, listening to streaming radio may not be so easy as it is on the N95 (which also has a built in FM radio for non web listening).

What other reasons might there be for me to abandon my N95 in favour of an iPhone, other than that the latter looks nice, and has outstanding design principles? The poor iPhone camera and lack of Slingbox client are the factors which are driving my reluctance at the moment. The latter should be addressed shortly, but I don’t think the camera can be solved, and I really like the idea of not needing a separate camera and being able directly to upload decent quality photos.

So please help me make a decision. And if you are advocating the iPhone, please give me some killer reasons.