How TOCs can meet passengers’ connectivity demand by 2025 with robust Wi-Fi
Robust on-board Wi-Fi connectivity is essential for the rail industry to evolve in the 21st century. Here, Paul Hinchy, Head of Transport at WiFi SPARK, explores how the appetite for digital connectivity is full steam-ahead.
At the end of 2017 the UK government announced plans to overhaul railway connectivity for passengers on all main routes by 2025. Working with Train Operating Companies (TOC), the government’s strategy seeks to service an increasingly mobile, digitally-savvy society with seamless mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity on trains as part of the wider 5G strategy to enhance public connectivity.
Hailed the greatest rail improvement effort since ‘Victorian times’, the proposal is well-timed with Wi-Fi now an expectation for modern passengers who want to stay connected on-the-go. Indeed, the commute period is one of the most popular times for connecting online with seven in 10 commuters using their smartphone on their journey.
Recently, Ofcom published evidence to support the strategy, ‘Advice to Government on improving rail passenger access to data services’, estimating that busy trains will need around 3.6Gbps of data capacity to meet demand by the deadline, recommending the development of trackside infrastructure to improve mobile data coverage. Of course, implementing trackside masts will take considerable time and resources making this a long-term rather than an immediate solution. In addition, mobile data can be extremely costly for TOCs.
In the interim the focus must be on enhancing the in-carriage Wi-Fi options to deliver premium connectivity for all passengers now, before the 2025 deadline. With the volume of passengers set to increase in coming years, along with their digital connectivity expectations, leading-edge Wi-Fi is a cost-effective and sustainable solution to meet demand on busy routes and ensure reliable connectivity for each individual.
A key objective from the strategy is delivering uninterrupted connectivity which supports video streaming simultaneously. TOCs must now look to agile, SME Wi-Fi providers who have the innovation and technology to make such connectivity a reality. Premium Wi-Fi not only gives passengers’ reliable access to their entertainment and messaging apps at no cost to their mobile data, but can also maintain continuous connectivity between train and platform.
TOCs should consider Wi-Fi providers who can offer a ‘Continuously Connected Passenger Journey’, whereby a single sign-up means users need only sign in once to enjoy an uninterrupted connection for the duration of their train journey and beyond. Powered by pioneering technology which will remember the user’s device for 365 days, this ease-of-use can transform the entire passenger experience, especially for regular travellers.
Robust Wi-Fi allows passengers to stay online throughout their journey for free, catch up on their emails or stream the latest films, check their travel apps and communicate with friends and family. This access is fundamental for a positive passenger experience.
The data offloading capability from train to platform allows TOCs to upload passenger infotainment data and train telemetries quickly via their Wi-Fi, minimising mobile network charges with huge data offload savings. This is especially important given Ofcom’s report which suggests that passengers using streaming services will rise by 2025.
The digital connectivity plan is ultimately about the passenger experience. Therefore, the solutions must be driven by the end-user and resolving the common issues which hinder their digital connectivity. Weak connectivity or a Wi-Fi service which repeatedly asks users to login will create a negative experience for passengers; adversely impacting their loyalty and propensity to travel with that TOC again.
In addition to enhancing their digital experience, TOCs might consider how they can build a better relationship with passengers and strengthen their brand loyalty. Modern consumers appreciate having a connection with the brands they interact with on a daily basis, and transport should be no different, particularly with many passengers taking the same rail route each day. TOCs can facilitate this connection from the moment passengers’ login to the Wi-Fi User Experience. A fully-branded User Experience is an opportunity for TOCs to endorse their brand-identity and tailor this page for the passenger by integrating loyalty schemes, incentives, surveys, passenger information and Delay Repay schemes.
By adding value to the passenger experience, TOCs can enrich their individual engagement which is key for improving retention levels.
With the government and TOCs constantly looking for ways to improve the digital experience, it is necessary to have an informed understanding of the passenger’s expectations. A premium Wi-Fi service with specialist analytics allows TOCs to drill down into customer demographics and maximise their data for a rounder view of the individual or wider trends. Insights from survey feedback, station dwell times, the length of journeys and even the languages used by passengers can all inform personalised offers and promotions for the passenger and indicate overall improvement strategies for rail services.
Robust Wi-Fi presents a cost-effective solution to meet expectations on routes, regardless of volume, and deliver the digital experience which modern passengers demand. This is essential for the rail industry to evolve in the 21st century and encourage customer loyalty, particularly amongst business and commuter travellers who predominantly use the internet on their journeys.
Paul Hinchy is Head of Transport at WiFi SPARK which specialises in premium Wi-Fi and business intelligence solutions for the transport industry. Paul has over 15 years of experience in telecoms and Wi-Fi and has supported key customers across both the public and private sectors, whilst developing new business opportunities and supporting organisational change. Paul is highly flexible, forward-thinking and a champion of technology in the transport sector.