As the world becomes increasingly urban, densely populated areas will face dramatic and seemingly intractable transportation issues. Fifty percent of the global population already lives in cities and, according to the United Nations, that number will approach 70 percent in the next 40 years which will result in the acceleration of mass transit. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, more than three billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices will ship in 2017 joining more than eight billion devices already in use. What does this mean for daily commuters and travelers in general?
If users can move around with their mobile devices, it seems increasingly expected that their Wi-Fi connectivity moved with them as well. Static Wi-Fi hotspots in stores, restaurants, hotels, and other fixed locations cater to user demand for wireless connections at dots on a map. The next stage is to offer Wi-Fi or guest Wi-Fi capability along the travel lines that join up those dots.
Travelers expect mobile Wi-Fi connectivity for their mobiles
Transportation providers including airlines, can derive several benefits from providing such a guest Wi-Fi service. It answers the demand for Wi-Fi from users of the transportation service, without compromising the security of any in-house Wi-Fi network serving the transportation provider itself. In survey statistics from Global Industry Analysts, Inc., 91.3% of a sample of more than 1,000 bus users planned to use mobile devices as they traveled by bus. Guest Wi-Fi also attracts transport service users: the same survey indicated that 45.7% of bus users considered Wi-Fi availability to be an important factor in making their travel plans. This is a key point not only for commercial transportation providers, but also for public mass transit systems aiming to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce pollution levels.
Connectivity being built into new subway transport networks
Wi-Fi connectivity is moving up in the priorities of subway systems too. The Internet Connectivity in Underground Rail Systems global survey conducted by Advanced Public Transport pointed to the same expectation and need for seamless networking for mobile device users. In addition, subway systems are growing rapidly in the world, with more than 45 new systems having been commissioned since 2000 and now more than 150 million passengers using subways every day. The survey also showed that more than 80% of subway systems planned to increase their efforts to expand broadband connectivity in existing stations over the following two years, while new stations designed from the ground up to be “digital stations” was already in excess of 90%. More than 50% of subway systems planned to expand broadband connectivity in trains over the same period, and more than 50% planned similar expansion in newly tunneled lines.
Meeting technical challenges
However, Wi-Fi networks must also be properly designed to give customers the seamless connectivity they now consider to be normal. To maximize the business value of Wi-Fi and transform the service into a competitive differentiator, networks must be easy to find, access must be seamless and secure, and network quality must be good even during periods of high demand. Just as important, hotspots must be deployed in high traffic locations where subscribers regularly use mobile data. Subway networks, bus systems, airplanes, and short haul ferry boats must all meet the challenge of providing a uniform level of service to their passengers, whether they are in motion or at rest. Technology now allows this objective to be reached, with only one user authentication required for the entire time the user is in the transport network, and Wi-Fi connections automatically switching from terminal to transport vehicle (train, bus, boat), and thence to another terminal, and so on.
Content insertion use cases for transportation providers
Once an underlying network has been correctly implemented for connectivity that meets customers’ expectations, transport providers can turn their attention to additional opportunities, including monetization. Content insertion in Wi-Fi connections lets providers enhance the user experience for their customers. They can also promote their services and special offers, and sell advertising slots to other enterprises wishing to target the same customers. Use cases in transportation include:
- Display of travel timetables
- Location maps
- Listings and features of local spots of interest
- Nearby shopping and restaurant services
- Notifications to users on any changes of itinerary or available services
- Prevention of access to explicit content or content likely to consume too much bandwidth (audio or video streaming and downloads) in the public areas of the transportation network
- Provision of a fair and reliable Wi-Fi service
A ferry link case model
RaGaPa provides content insertion capability to the Staten Island Ferry and its New York terminal, allowing the transportation provider to insert content in its guest Wi-Fi for passengers from one end of a crossing to the other. The number of daily unique users is between 5,000 and 6,000, and click-through rates at 2% to 5% exceed averages for industry. The content that customers see, discrete yet visible on their mobile device screens, is mostly targeted content from third parties and advertising relevant to the users connecting via the Wi-Fi service.
The information and monetization options make guest Wi-Fi attractive to all transportation stakeholders including travelers and local governments. Whichever route works better for a transportation provider is the one to adopt, as long as it converges on end-user needs and helps recoup any investments made.