“Our clients are telling us that their passengers, are expecting an ‘at home experience’ while on-board and they have to deliver.”
The rapid development of digital technology this past decad has changed our lives considerably. Take a minute to think of your typical day and the role your smartphone and computer plays. Hard to imagine a day without them right? And one of the biggest effects is the huge amount of choices that we face on a daily basis. According to researchers at Cornell University it’s estimated than an adult now makes about 35,000 decisions a day. Most are modest and relatively insignificant. But what about those really important decisions, those made in businesses that can cost millions and whose results can reverberate for years? Getting these right isn’t easy. And for rail and metro bosses, the digitization of their passengers’ lives has given them plenty of important decisions to make. How do they ensure the technology that they choose to invest in matches the demands of their passengers both today and tomorrow. What’s the best way to avoid obsolescence? And how can their on-board connectivity continue to match the rapid changes seen in the wider world?
This decision making is at the heart of successful investment, so to learn more about this, our Editor Luke Upton, recently sat down with Paola Realpozo, Director of Rail Strategy at LILEE Systems. The Silicon-Valley based company with extensive experience across the rail sector, and a host of global clients really put connectivity at the core of their business, so Paola is the perfect guide to some of the key developments in this area and how best to make those crucial decisions.
We begin with perhaps the most common important and in demand on-board offering, Wi-Fi. We live in a connected world, where rail and metro passengers now expect to be able to use their time on-board to work or be entertained digitally. And for this service to not only have high bandwidth but to also be free. In the space of a few years, on-board Wi-Fi has moved from being an unexpected but normally costly bonus, to a default expectation.
I asked Paola (@paolarealpozo) just how big a part of their work is focussed on the passenger experience: “Passenger Wi-Fi is a big yes for our rail clients. There’s a strong business case for it, especially when combined with other operational and safety applications. Operators want to not just provide a basic service but one that is going to lead to high satisfaction levels. Our clients are telling us that their passengers, are expecting an ‘at home experience’ while on-board and they have to deliver. Our networks can allow passengers to be empowered on their journey. One example would be that they can access social media or personal emails on their way to work, so they don’t need to do this when they get to the office.”
Train and metro operators can benefit by an increase in ridership for catering for these digital passengers. But there’s also the opportunity to further this business case by integrating the passenger Wi-Fi into a single communications hub. LILEE Systems do this with transit operators, who gain a single access point to monitoring and provisioning video surveillance, infotainment, advertising and maintenance and operations.
This offers operators detailed and immediate insights on device, communications link, and network performance, connections and user sessions, user statistics and ridership reports – all creating a powerful and accurate picture of network use.
A second new technology to help further boost ridership (and the ensuing increased ticket revenues) is the on-board entertainment systems which enable passengers to watch movies, listen to music, surf the Internet, and play games from the comfort of their seats using their own personal wireless Internet enabled device, typically a tablet or smartphone.
It’s a slightly more complex offering than passenger Wi-Fi, with the emphasis on passenger bringing their own device (BYOD) and the on-board communications network having to be robust enough to match the demands of streaming movies or computer games.
Paola (pictured left) is in constant conversation with their clients on passenger demands; “Without a doubt, reliable on-board internet access offers a more fun and comfortable journey and this is something rail and metro operators are seeing across the globe, each region with its unique set of motivators and challenges. I think the future of entertainment is with passengers bringing their own devices, rather than using some specifically built system, which can help keep maintenance costs low. When customers are given the option to consume free digital content provided by the operator, this can help ease pressure on bandwidth availability.”
“To further lower some of the operational costs, like the cost of cellular communication, operators can benefit from LILEE’s network management to achieve operational performance and the least cost routing option among cellular carriers or even switch to the track side radio alternative, when available. And for those operators considering rolling out passenger entertainment, we are able to offer the TransAir system as a backbone for all forms of mobile communications. It uses aggregated cellular technology to provide reliable, high-speed on-board Wi-Fi and this connectivity can also form the basis of safety and operational systems as well. So it offers a number of benefits, in a cost effective manner” continued Paola.
A third area helping make investments to support the on-board experience and one that we are just beginning to see the potential of is the further development of on-board advertising and mobile commerce. Passengers are a great cohort to advertise to, and by using a data platform, they can be segmented by demographics, engagement and even route to create bespoke messaging. What some are calling ‘commuter commerce’ is reflecting the fact that a lot of people are using their time commuting to surf the internet – and make purchases.
Twenty-seven per cent of retail sales now take place online, according to the IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index. A study by Zapp and CEBR last year found at 20% of all online shopping in the UK is carried out on phones or tablets during consumers’ journeys to and from work. And with Wi-Fi provision improving, this percentage is only going to rise. And again, this offers a huge opportunity for rail and metro operators to grow their own revenue streams and support investment in the infrastructure that makes it possible.
To give just one illustration of how these solutions can come together to deliver positive (and measurable) results we have to visit San Jose in California, where LILEE Systems, are partnering with WeDriveU (@WeDriveU) a leader in corporate transportation solutions to integrate their Wi-Fi solution within its Commute Alternatives offering. On the latest WeDriveU client program, LILEE found that nearly every passenger had taken advantage of the high-speed Wi-Fi to connect to the corporate VPN while on board, resulting in approximately 13% more employee productivity based on their ability to work while connected to their office during their commute. Erick VanWagenen, Executive Vice President at WeDriveU, Inc. underlined the benefits; “Superior connectivity is integral to offering the best commute experience for passengers and for us to deliver the greatest amount of value to our clients.”
The benefits that WeDriveU have seen following their investment in passenger-focussed developments have been echoed by rail and metro operators around the world. The development and delivery of wireless connectivity solutions by industry leaders like LILEE are resulting in a better passenger experience and more effective operations which not only boost revenue but help further create a differentiator between rail and metro and rival forms of transport, in particular the car.
To finish I ask Paola for some advice for rail and metro operators looking to further invest in passenger focussed solutions; “Ultimately whatever solution the operators decide to implement, the end result is always to move their passengers from A to B in a safe, informed and most connected way possible. And then it’s not about just implementing ten different solutions, it’s about implementing ten different solutions in an architecture that is simplified and that is not going to cost them more. By doing this it is clear that the investment is a good one f or both operators and passengers alike.”
Paola Realpozo is an expert speaker at both SmartRail Europe (Amsterdam, 5th - 6th April) where the LILEE Systems team can be also be found at Stand 5 and SafeRail and at the SafeRail Congress (Washington D.C., 11th-12th April) where LILEE Systems occupy Stand 13.
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