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5 Minutes With… Stephen McSpadden, senior product manager at Rambus.

Posted by Dave Songer on Feb 1, 2019

Stephen McSpadden"The challenge of introducing modern, mobile-based technology that gets updated every year into systems that are more used to updates every ten is challenging but very fulfilling when it does all come together.” 

Attempting to predict the future of mobility technology services will always something of an imprecise art. So rapid are the changes and the developments in the area of technology that even the most well-reasoned and researched view could be wide of the mark. In the area of transport, one aspect of technology that is likely to continue having a major input is the smartphone; they are already being used across the world to make journeys more predictable and smoother, but where will the improvements come from that could one day make journeys completely seamless?  

Helping to gauge where the mobile phones that until relatively recently were there just for phone calls and texts, Stephen McSpadden from the technology company, Rambus, joins SmartRail World in the hot seat for 5 Minutes With… Stephen is senior product manager at Rambus and he explains to Dave Songer where he thinks the next changes will come, the resistance to establishing the required systems and what he got out of SmartMetro in October 2018. 

Dave Songer (DS): Hi Stephen, thanks for joining us. You co-chair one of the Working Groups of the OSPT Alliance (OSPT), can you tell me about your role and the role of OSPT? 

Stephen McSpadden (SM): The OSPT Alliance is a member-driven, global community dedicated to enabling the future of mobility services across a variety of markets including transport, ticketing, access control, and micro-payment and represents stakeholders from the entire mobility ecosystem. The Alliance promotes the CIPURSE standard which is an open, non-proprietary standard for transport ticketing and many other non-transport applications. It serves to empower stakeholders with a fully open platform to develop secure mobility solutions with partners across the industry. 

Using a smartphone to pay for travel is now a common practice
I co-chair the Host Card Emulation working group, focusing on how to bring the virtual CIPURSE cards to the mobile phone. The working groups are the engine behind the OSPT Alliance and members have a real opportunity to help guide the direction of the OSPT Alliance through them. For example, the Alliance is now looking at how to deliver The Future of Mobility Services as we move to a Mobility on Demand culture.  

DS: Excellent. you’re also a group solutions architect at Rambus  how long have you been with the company and what is it you most like about being involved in the transport industry?

SM: I was one of the founding embedded engineers back in 2000 when what is now Rambus Ticketing was formed as Ecebs. Transport is one of the most complex environments out there, and when done well it is brilliant how it manages to move so many people around, especially in dense urban areas. I get a real kick out of helping deliver part of a solution that enables people to get on with their lives without them having to stress over it – life is complicated enough! However, there are no shortage of problems in the world of transport, so the challenge of introducing modern, mobile-based technology that gets updated every year into systems that are more used to updates every ten is challenging but very fulfilling when it does all come together. 

DS: What’s been your biggest career challenge thus far? 

SM: I’ve worked with smart cards for over 24 years on payment applications, ID and transport from a silicon level to an application level so the challenges have been diverse. Getting our first EMV payment masks through certifications and also helping to get our two-chip ITSO SAM through common certification are definitely up there too. In truth, the most painful challenges have generally been around certification, but without it getting these large systems to operate reliably – and safely - would be even more difficult. 

DS: How about OSPT, what are the challenges it faces regarding the introduction of a more straightforward ticketing strategy? 

SM: Mobility as a service can deliver but in a deregulated, competitive market there is currently clear resistance to establishing the systems to make that work at the scale it needs to. There is still much to do to deliver a joined-up travel experience, but the OSPT Alliance are looking at how to deliver a secure, flexible, open platform that can support this evolutionary revolution – and with recent success in South America in some non-transport schemes (driving licence and toll collection) we see how the platform can deliver the kind of joined up services people are really looking for. 

DS: Here’s hoping! Where do you think passengers will see the biggest changes to their journeys in the future? 

SM: We often hear the phrase frictionless travel and I believe harnessing the power of mobile  to connect people with transport provision and associated services  is essential. Mobile will be the form factor to determine how people choose their travel, pay for their travel and then access that travel experience. It is being delivered, but change isn’t fast enough for some (even many). Inclusiveness is important; public transport is also a social imperative and we should provide those who operate transport with the tools to deliver to all.  

Stephen believes frictionless travel will be helped by harnessing the power of mobileDS: What does your perfect transport network look like? 

SM: Safe, reliable and not stressful – particularly not overcrowded. Some parts of the world manage this but their underlying infrastructure is often more modern compared with the UK. 

DS: What’s your favourite piece of ticketing technology? 

SM: Mobile-enabled ticketing: using my mobile to compete a journey without having to do more than tap the puck on the gate with my phone. This is possible today thanks to near-field communication (NFC) and either an host card emulation (HCE) or secure element based smart card solution. They provide strong authentication of the device to validator, without requiring an overhaul of that acceptance infrastructure. To the end user, it appears as a seamless marriage of new technology with the infrastructure they already know. Operators get the same “card” transaction as with a physical card but the knowledge they have a mobile customer they can update with added services e.g. pushing disruption updates or incentives to take alternative trains or buses to manage congestion. Bridge technologies have been helpful but all have their flaws – from QR codes on my teenage son’s phone with its cracked screen to the battery stress at the end of the day when I wonder if 15% is enough to display that boarding pass for my last flight home in 2 hours’ time. 

DS: What advice would you offer someone looking to begin a career in the rail industry? 

SM: Take the time, now and again, to get on and use the system you are working on open your eyes and ears, look around and get immersed. Nothing beats real-world experience and sometimes the simplest of changes can yield really positive results. 

DS: You spoke at SmartMetro in October – what did you get out of that? 

SM: The opportunity to meet operators, technologists and solution developers from other parts of the world is always useful. While the detail of the solutions deployed in Porto versus Vienna were very different, the fundamental issues with bringing mobile technology into a transport environment were similar, so it was good to exchange experiences. I also had a fascinating discussion on cyber security in rail with Maya from Cylus – who I know you’ve featured previously 

DS: What’s your favourite rail journey – anywhere in the world – and why? 

SM: I’ve never had the opportunity to experience the luxury of the Orient Express or South Africa’s Blue Train, but a very humbling and sobering journey was in third class from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi - the Bridge over the River Kwai. Only when there do you appreciate the environment in which that rail line was built, so while not maybe my favourite, it was certainly one that had a significant impact on me.

DS: Thanks very much, Stephen.


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Dave Songer

Written by Dave Songer

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