The state-owned company has started testing the service on 44 Intercity trains between Zurich and Geneva, St Gallen and Lausanne, and from Basel to Biel, the federal railways announced on Tuesday in a statement.
To increase connection coverage across its rail network and in tunnels, the state-owned company is relying on the mobile networks rather than on wi-fi.
In order to benefit from the free internet service on the trains, travellers must have a mobile phone and a Swiss SIM card from Salt or Sunrise. Users also need to download the “FreeSurf SBB” application and identify themselves using a telephone number.
After registration and activation, they receive confirmation that they can surf for free via their operator. When the traveller leaves the train or if the link is interrupted, a notification is sent to indicate that free internet access is no longer active, the Federal Railways explained.
The test phase is due to last several months before possibly being rolled out to the entire rail network. A solution is also being considered for travellers without mobile SIM cards, such as tourists.
The Federal Railways says discussions are ongoing with Swisscom and UPC, which are currently not participating in the tests.
In 2013, the first Swiss train stations were equipped with WLAN, and internet connectivity on the rail system has improved since then, with 97% network coverage currently.
Trains are being fitted with amplifiers to boost signal strength while all tunnels should be equipped with 4G coverage by 2022.
On its international service routes, the company says it plans to install WLAN for passengers on journeys to neighbouring countries by the end of the year.
A wifi solution will follow at the end of 2019 for international SBB trains
Contrary to the good 3G / 4G / (5G) mobile connection quality in Switzerland, trains traveling abroad often cross poorly covered areas. In this case, it is advisable to use wifi technology: a router groups the mobile networks of different providers. The Internet connection is thus improved and the coverage gaps of some mobile networks can thus be compensated. In this context, SBB will install Wi-Fi on international trains running both in Switzerland and in neighboring countries. The wifi will be available in the first SBB compositions by the end of 2019