Spanish national train operator RENFE is to offer free WiFi connections to passengers on its much-lauded high-speed AVE trains. According to reports in the national daily El Pais, the service will begin on some routes by the end of this year.

RENFE has long been planning WiFi on-board services for its AVE lines, and also at all stations along RENFE’s commuter routes, now, the newspaper reports, the operator intends to introduce both in one blow. The ten-year contract to supply the new service has been awarded to Telefónica, at a cost of €148.6-million. The former state-run entity beat off competition from Vodafone, among others.

RENFE is planning to roll out a free basic service covering e-mail and web-surfing, and a premium pay service offering greater download speeds, based on 4G and satellite technology. The first line to get the on-board connections will be the Madrid-Barcelona route, by the end of December. The service will gradually extend to all 89 AVE trains over the next two years.

El Pais reports that the installation of on-train kit will set the train company back some €40 million. However, thinking ahead, RENFE says it sees the money spent as a ‘strategic’ investment, designed to attract more customers and help see off future competition.

The Spanish Government continues to invest heavily in high-speed rail. This year alone it is adding some 1,000km of new track allowing the AVE to reach eight further provincial capitals, including Zamora, León, Palencia and Burgos. This unprecedented expansion, which many commentators have been quick to note, coincides with an election year, is costing the tax-payers some €3.5 billion, a 48% jump on the amount allocated to high-speed rail in 2014.

Still, at least passengers will now have an internet connection they can use to tweet about whether the money has been well-spent or not, as they speed across the plains.

The spread of WiFi on trains around the world, as well as the development of new on-board wirelessly-supplied services will be the main focuses of next year’s WiFi on Trains Conference – Train Communications Systems 2016.