February 2014 and I still can’t do a phone call on a moving train

At 10pm I had a call with San Francisco.

I write it like that, because it sounds cool.

In point of fact, the chap I was due to speak with is the height of cool. One of the Valley’s uber-connected dudes.

I phoned him at 10pm as I boarded the train and sat down. Firstly, he was quite surprised I opted for an actual old-skool telephone call. He was expecting some kind of Skype, FaceTime or VoIP thing. I had to quickly remind him that I live in the United Kingdom and that means nothing happens when the train moves.

I had to further explain that the best I could hope for was an audio call.

I could hear him wince.

I had to declare, before we began our chat, that I had about 14 minutes available before I would probably be cut off. I could feel him looking at me strangely from 6,000 miles away.

“I shit ye not,” I had to explain, “Seriously, the train departs at 1012pm. Two minutes into the journey, we’ll be travelling way too fast for anything to actually work properly.”

[Side note: 4G on EE is excellent — I can more or less watch Netflix from Waterloo until about Fleet — roughly 40-odd minutes. But that’s because there’s a degree of buffering going on. It’s sadly not a full connection, all of the time.]

So bad are my expectations for using voice on the train that I actually explained to the chap that when we got cut off, that was it. I said I wasn’t going to dick about phoning him, speaking for 20 seconds, getting cut off, phoning him back, getting cut off and so on.

“When I get cut off, we move to instant message, right?”

He agreed.

Lo and behold, dear reader. What happened 14 minutes into the call?

I felt like the proverbial mind reader. The call dropped.

Somebody please get me a satellite phone.

You know what, I’d love to get a sat phone and see if you can actually use these things properly. Could I sit on the train, by the window and maintain a phone call at, say, 40 miles per hour? I don’t know because I’ve only used a sat phone on a desert island.

[I took an Iridium sat phone to an island in the Maldives for a Mobile Industry Review Desert Island Special a good few years ago. See the posts and the pictures here.]

Yes it would be a pound-per-minute to use the sat phone, but guess what, that’s roughly what I was paying to call California from my Vodafone connection that doesn’t really work.

So there you go. If you’re reading, Iridium, can I borrow a sat phone for a day? Would that fix things? Would I actually be able to do a phone call on a moving train with an Iridium device? Is that what it takes nowadays for these basic things to work?

I do wonder.

And for good measure, here’s the satphone photo I took whilst in the Maldives. (The device and the service worked perfectly.)



By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

4 replies on “February 2014 and I still can’t do a phone call on a moving train”

I have the same coming in and out of London from Kings Cross – although it’s less to do with the speed and more to do with a succession of tunnels and built up areas – still bloody annoying though.

Didn’t I hear an MWC rumour that someone was trying to put a satellite connection into a cell phone? Or was that just wishful thinking…?

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