From the middle of 2014, Switzerland’s 31 largest train stations will offer free internet access for one hour, Swiss Federal Railways has announced. After that, passengers will have to pay.
Spokesman Reto Schärli on Tuesday confirmed Swiss media reports that “until further notice” the railways’ internet strategy was to equip main stations with WLAN (wireless local area network). He added that this currently wasn’t possible in trains “for technical reasons”.
In February, Swiss railways announced that it wanted to offer free Wi-Fi in the 100 largest stations by the end of 2015, but the strategy is now 31 stations by mid-2014.
“It’s good news – it’s just a bit late,” Bruno Eberle, vice-president of Pro Bahn Switzerland, a public transport lobby group, told swissinfo.ch. “When you think that wireless can be received on most Post buses, then it’s time that it can be picked up free in at least the bigger train stations.”
At present, Swisscom, Switzerland’s largest telecommunications company in which the Swiss government is the main shareholder, has Wi-Fi hotspots in the country’s 31 largest stations (see box). Users pay for this service with a prepaid card or credit card, or via their mobile phone bill if they have a mobile telephone subscription with the same provider.
Schärli said that until the contract with Swisscom runs out in mid-2014, Swiss Federal Railways can’t set up any free competition. From then, however, free Wi-Fi could be offered, although no fixed timeplan exists.
Stations with Wi-Fi hotspots
Aarau, Baden, Basel SBB, Bern, Bellinzona, Biel/Bienne, Brig, Brugg, Chur, Fribourg, Geneva, Geneva Airport, Lausanne, Locarno, Lugano, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Olten, Rapperswil, Schaffhausen, Sitten, Solothurn, St Gallen, Thun, Wil SG, Winterthur, Zug, Zurich Enge, Zurich Main Station (free WLAN also available in the SBB Lounge, with access for holders of a first class GA travelcard only), Zurich Oerlikon, Zurich Stadelhofen.End of insertion
Eberle said he was convinced that the choice of only 31 stations was only the beginning – “pressure from passengers will get so great that wireless will have to be offered in more stations and even in trains.”
He also expressed a “certain understanding” for limiting customers to only one hour of free internet. “The thing is that if unlimited access were offered, the amount of data would be so large that sooner or later the network would crash, so people would have to download emails and newspaper articles and then log off to make room for other customers.”
As for how the system would work, Schärli said customers would apply, once, in a station for the service, and then they would be registered with the railways and Wi-Fi connection would be automatic.
Currently free Wi-Fi tests are being carried out in three smaller stations in Switzerland. Sometime in September, passengers will be told when and at which three stations they will be able to access the free Wi-Fi. Swiss railways will then gather their experiences and feedback.
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