Train Traveling without Cellphone Coverage

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In one of my previous posts, I discussed a bit about the coverage issues in the Northern areas of Pakistan. Now lets take a look at the cellphone coverage problems faced while traveling, specifically while commuting through trains. The coverage has improved a great deal on the motorway and other major highways of Pakistan but the railway passengers still face a lot of problems. So lets put some light on this issue.

Here I am going to narrate my personal cellphone coverage experiences during a train journey. Early this year, I had the chance to travel to Rawalpindi via Pakistan railways. As soon as the train left the area, the signals dropped to a minimum level. Then the signals dropped dead for the rest of the journey till we reached Hyderabad, where they gained ample strength. Since I was traveling with users of all mobile service providers, I was able to notice that the signal’s quality was the same for all cellphone companies. As the train embarked on a journey to interior Sindh, the signals strength ranged from poor to below average interspersed with total signal black outs. The same situation followed throughout the journey, the signal quality was poor most of the times. It only improved when the train was passing through the urban areas.

Now here is some food for thought. Pakistan railways carried a passenger load of more than 72 million in the year 2003, according to a World Bank Report. It may have increased to over 80 million as the railway has introduced some new trains with improved speeds and services (Like one between Rwp-Lhr, which covers the distance in merely four hours). Keeping in mind the cellular revolution of Pakistan, it can be expected that of these 80 million passengers, at least 60 million would be cell phone users. Now I do not know why all the cellphone companies are ignoring the fact that millions of their customers suffer due to missing cellphone coverage.

Why is it a big deal? Cellphone usage has become such an essential part of our lives. A long train journey is the perfect time to followup with clients, call old friends, update your family about your journey status, etc. Instead, on my way to Rawalpindi early this year, I felt like I was thrown back to the stone ages.

The coverage can be provided by installing towers along the railway lines. I know that it’s almost impossible to totally cover the railway tracks with cellphone towers but at least a major chunk of that area can be covered. The towers should be installed in such a way that the signal strength remains at an average level throughout the journey. The railway authorities need to acquire land sites for these towers (PR has plenty of land sites by the way).

I request the concerned authorities to look seriously into this matter and I hope that they will be able to solve this issue in the near future.

Facebook comments:


  • Here I want to add another point that the number of passengers may have increased to over 100 million. This point came in my mind as the population of Pakistan is growing Mashallah at lights’ speed, so the passenger load is also increasing.

  • It’s hard to cover the internal Sindh, as it would need loads of resources. The companies will need towers and then after their installation, the monitoring part.

    But yes, they can improve the service to a average usage level..

    Good Post..
    keep it up..

  • Of course it’s difficult to cover whole of interior Sindh, but major parts can still be covered. Also if the companies are making big profits then they should also spent some for the well being of their customers.

  • One correction though — the total mobile users in pakistan are hovering just about 68MM so I dont see 90%+ of them travelling on train just yet…

    …except maybe the Telenor crowd who likes dancing around on rooftops.

  • Thanks Osama for your correction. Also many guys travel in train often, I mean dozens of times per year so this annaul passenger load can be interpreted in that manner viz a viz the percentage of mobile subscribers among them.

    In that case we can say that majority of train passengers r mobile phone subscribers.

    Yup Telenor guys love to do that but wasn’t that AD shot in India???


  • I have travelled to Pindi from Khi last month. I have got Ufone signals on and off (strong till Hyderabad, dropping down and coming back on and off. I have found Ufone not working above Murree. Telenor is best there and then comes Mobilink.

  • @Kashif

    last year, when i was in Galiat. we could only talk to our relatives through Telenor, the rest of services were like DEAD…. Ufone is good for urban customers, perhaps the firms needs to identify such segments as niches. Because the figure that Saas has quoted are good enough for any of the big boy to jump in. I mean they need to concentrate…

  • The ironic part is that I hear that all telecos – Mobilink and others, are running fibre-optic lines alongside the railroad anyway.

    The question would be that is it more feasible to do tower construction at points during the journey, or find some other way to transmit the cell-phone signals across (more on that some day).

    P.s. I was told about the fibre lines from someone who was designing the “electricy-over-rail-circuit” project for Pak Railways, so I cannot confirm how valid it is.

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