The UK is leading Europe in the race to get broadband wireless services onto trains, according to a new report from the consulting firm BWCS. The number of WiFi-equipped train carriages in Britain has reached 2,000, which far exceeds the closest rivals Germany (911) and Italy (995) and dwarfs the French figure of 416.

BWCS forecasts that the market for on-train wireless broadband services in Europe will grow from €47 million per year in 2011 to €80 million by 2021.

"Competition is the major factor driving train operators to make this investment," said Graham Wilde, CEO of BWCS. "The UK has benefited hugely from the franchise system which saw private, entrepreneurial companies take to the rails ahead of the rest of Europe. Now, as competition spreads slowly across the EU, companies are scrambling to install WiFi onto trains."

The business model for these services has become much clearer too, argues BWCS. By mid-2012 over half of all WiFi-equipped carriages in Europe were providing free broadband to all passengers. In fact, access is charged for only 17% of those carriages that have WiFi, mainly on Germany’s Deutsche Bahn and TGV in France. 28% of carriages utilise a mixed charging model, with free service in premium class and time-based charging in standard class.

A combination of new train operators and routes, increased pressure on incumbents, the arrival of WiFi on buses and coaches and even regulatory requirements are rapidly making on-train WiFi a must-have passenger service.

The BWCS report ‘The European Market for Train-Based Broadband Wireless Services 2012’ provides detailed analysis of the current state of play in this fast-moving market. It also contains projections for the growth of the various services in each country and across Europe over the next ten years. It should make vital reading for train operators and suppliers alike.