Photo/Illutration A worker peels off a Wi-Fi sticker inside a train for the Tsukuba Express Line in December 2022. (Provided by Metropolitan Intercity Railway Co.)

More railway operators in the Tokyo metropolitan area have ended their free onboard Wi-Fi services as tourist numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels and the companies seek to reduce costs.

Wi-Fi connections were mainly offered on Shinkansen and other express trains ahead of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games initially scheduled for 2020.

But such services have not really caught on for local trains.

Metropolitan Intercity Railway Co. stopped providing free Wi-Fi on Tsukuba Express trains connecting Akihabara Station in Tokyo and Tsukuba Station in Ibaraki Prefecture on Dec. 23, 2022, when its contract with a telecommunications carrier expired.

The Tokyo-based railway operator introduced a fee-based Wi-Fi service when the line opened in 2005, and it started offering free Wi-Fi on some trains in 2020.

Users would have to first select the network name displayed on their smartphones or other devices and register their e-mail addresses.

“The number of users was small,” a company representative said.

The service will still be available in station buildings, the company said.

Tokyo Metro Co. had introduced free Wi-Fi for all of its nine subway lines by the end of March 2021.

But it ended the service at the end of June last year to “reduce fixed expenses.” Its contract with a telecom company expired, and fewer inbound tourists than expected used the service.

“A growing number of people have unlimited use plans. We took into consideration the environment, where it is not necessary for them to go online with free Wi-Fi,” a representative said.

Tobu Railway Co. discontinued its free Wi-Fi service for regular trains on the Tobu Skytree and Tojo lines in and after April last year due mainly to the decline in foreign tourists.

But the company intends to continue the free service on a limited number of trains with an eye on catering to a rebound in demand from increased tourism.


Most railroad operators outside the Tokyo metropolitan area are continuing to provide free Wi-Fi.

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) has introduced free Wi-Fi on its Hida and Nanki express trains. The service is also available on the Airport Line and other routes run by Nagoya Railroad Co.

Osaka-based Kintetsu Railway Co. offers free connections on some of its express trains.

All of these companies said they have no plans to discontinue their Wi-Fi services.

Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co. is providing free Wi-Fi on its sightseeing trains, but the Fukuoka-based operator said it is considering options, including terminating the Wi-Fi service.

Hideyuki Asakawa, head researcher at Japan Research Institute Ltd., noted that many consumers can access communication networks offered by their carriers when they ride trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

“I think few people are worried about how much data they use and will switch to free Wi-Fi, unless they are on long rides,” Asakawa, who is well-versed in communications infrastructure, said. “Railroad operators also gain few benefits from continuing the free service unless it leads to customer satisfaction.”

Asakawa said he expects an increasing number of railway companies to focus on providing free Wi-Fi for passengers who spend long hours on express and other trains.