Cities are expanding quickly and are expected to continue growing rapidly over the next several decades. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) recently reported that roughly half the world’s population now lives in urban areas.
DESA has predicted that over the next 25 years, the ratio will increase to two-thirds. Taking population growth into account, this would mean about 6,5-billion people living in cities by 2050. As city populations continue to rise, city infrastructures need to grow and evolve to accommodate the added density. Public transport is an important part of the picture. Not only do public buses and light-rail vehicles help reduce traffic congestion, ease emissions, and lower energy consumption, they keep people safer too, since there are fewer accidents, injuries and fatalities associated with public transportation than with cars. Giving people more reasons to ride the bus and leave the car at home (or not have one at all), can do a lot to make megacities more livable.
Global smartphone users
The exact number of smartphone users worldwide is hard to gauge, but, according to the British analytics company Mediacells, a total of 1,02-billion smartphones were sold, in 47 countries, in 2014 alone. Add to that the number of tablets and laptops people use for mobile internet access, and the trend toward on-the-go connectivity is undeniably strong.
Bus time = found time
One incentive for people to take public transport is that it frees up time. For many passengers, the bus or tramway is a place to read, listen to music, or an opportunity to interact with a mobile device. More and more passengers carry smartphones or tablets and access cellular data services while they ride. They check headlines, interact with social media, send and receive messages, stream entertainment, and otherwise stay connected while in transit.
The attraction of onboard WiFi
Public-transport agencies can take advantage of this growing desire for mobile connectivity, and use it to increase ridership. When buses are equipped with mobile gateways, passengers can enjoy onboard WiFi services that are in many ways better than cellular subscription plans.
Onboard WiFi typically provides better performance – meaning faster downloads, lower power consumption, and better coverage – than a cellular data service based on a single mobile network. The typical consumer device is equipped with a single SIM, tied to a particular mobile operator’s network, and the quality of coverage can vary from point to point. Onboard WiFi, on the other hand, can be configured to aggregate signals from all the cellular networks available in a given area, for the best connection at any point.
Moreover, WiFi on buses means passengers can use their laptops and tablets, not just their smartphones, while they ride. Having free access to high-speed data, without usage limits, gives passengers more ways to be productive or entertain themselves while they get where they need to go, and that can be a big incentive to ride instead of drive.
A number of cities around the world, including London, Beijing, and more than 20 municipalities in the United States, have deployed WiFi on buses, with good results. Demand is growing, and more passengers are saying that WiFi is a reason to consider riding public buses.
For example, a June 2015 study, conducted by the international transport operator, Transdev, polled 2500 French citizens and found that roughly two-thirds of bus passengers (68%) would like to have access to free WiFi onboard, ranking this expectation in the top three of hoped-for services. (For further results from this study, titled Transdev Explorer – Les Voyageurs Numériques – Septembre 2015, visit www.transdev.com.)
Quick return on investment
It can be a major undertaking, and a significant commitment of funds, for a transit agency to equip an entire fleet of buses with mobile gateways in order to offer onboard public WiFi. The investment can be a very good one, however, since WiFi can increase ridership and, as a result, raise transit revenue. This is especially true for long-haul buses and along regular bus routes where the average trip is fairly long. If people will be onboard for more than, say, an hour or so, augmenting onboard WiFi with other features, such as seats equipped with USB ports or power outlets, can be an added attraction, since passengers can be confident they won’t run into battery issues during the ride.
Also, there’s a way to get an even greater return on investment, and that’s by having the onboard service do more than just provide passengers with connectivity. A mobile gateway that houses multiple modems, known as a multi-radio mobile gateway, can do double duty, serving passengers and operators alike. For example, one modem can provide onboard WiFi for passengers and, eventually, support the higher bandwidth provided by LTE carrier aggregation, while the other can become a secure channel for operators.
By combining load-balancing features and quality of service (QoS) policies, operators can specify how bandwidth is prioritized and shared between their own operations management functions and passenger-facing functions. The approach also lets operators make more flexible use of public and private cellular networks. Taking this approach means passengers get a better experience, while transportation agencies get new ways to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and prepare for future development.
A better transit system overall
The multi-radio mobile gateway can supply telematics information, for real-time location and traffic management. It can also provide vehicle diagnostics to support maintenance schedules, and can be used for video surveillance to monitor onboard activity. To be more specific, the onboard gateway can be used with automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems for more efficient and more responsive route and schedule management. It can support video surveillance, with vehicle-camera systems capable of storing and/or streaming video, for improved bus security and passenger safety.
Fare-collection systems can use the onboard gateway to support open payment processing, real-time credit verification, and passenger counting systems. What’s more, vehicle-monitoring systems can report the status of mechanical and electrical components, for improved diagnostics and maintenance. Transit operators can also use a multi-radio gateway to differentiate their services. In addition to offering on-board Internet access via WiFi, operators can use a multi-radio mobile gateway to improve the passenger experience. A transit app can be configured to provide recommendations for interchanges based on real-time location data, real- time progress on localised maps, as well as announcements of anticipated arrival times for upcoming stops, thus removing the need of multiple information displays in the bus.
Long-term options for intermodal transport
Having busses equipped with mobile gateways also supports long-term growth, as the telematics data from buses can be used as part of a broader intermodal transport scheme. Also known as mixed-mode commuting, intermodal transport combines public and private modes of transport, from bike rentals and car-sharing services, to buses, trams, subways, trains and more. With intermodal transport, public and private transit operators share their data, providing real-time information to a central cloud platform that drives a mobile app.
People then use the app to plan and execute door-to-door journeys, using the best, most convenient combination of transportation options. Intermodal transport promises to make it easier to navigate and live in cities, and WiFi on buses will play a significant role in making it an everyday reality.
A technical approach
A multi-radio mobile gateway has been designed specifically for the purpose – enabling WiFi to be added to a public bus, and also the provision of cloud and on-premises management, for secure deployments that are easy and cost- effective to operate, along with connectivity services, for turnkey operation. The result is that transit operators get a better way to manage and evolve their services while providing passengers with quick, reliable access to mobile bandwidth.
Products such as the InMotion Solution suite simplify the deployment, management, and maintenance of advanced mobile networks like those used by public transit. The products include the oMG Mobile Gateway, a multi-radio mobile communications gateway optimised for rugged, reliable performance; the oMM. A mobile network management system for advanced, real-time control of the entire fleet; and a secure platform that provides advanced security for all connected devices is avaible. Every InMotion Solution is supported by transport-specific applications, backed by a world-class technical team, and compatible with the Sierra Wireless connectivity service.
The mobile gateway such as the oMG acts as the central communications hub for a vehicle and is specifically designed to deliver secure, persistent, wireless wide-area networking for vehicles. By enabling several onboard systems to share wireless services, the gateway eliminates the duplication of modems and antennas otherwise needed to provide each bus system with standalone communication. For example, it can provide access to public wide-area 3G/4G cellular services, a private cellular infrastructure, in-depot 802.11a/b/g/n access points, or out-of-depot WiFi hotspots.
Support for roaming between cellular and WiFi networks and within broadband mesh hot zones increases flexibility and improves reliability. Automatic network selection can be prioritised based on network availability, general network preferences, vehicle location, the time of day, vehicle speed, or wireless signal strength. The gateway can actively and continuously verify the integrity of the network connection to automatically detect when network service weakens. The gateway can also, as appropriate, proactively switch traffic to an alternate network while continuously attempting to re-establish the preferred connection. To assure that only appropriate application traffic is routed over each wireless infrastructure, the gateway can filter traffic directed to each wireless link. This makes it possible to restrict bulk data transmissions to garage-area WiFi links where available, thereby limiting cellular access to real-time critical transactions such as emergency alerts, vehicle location, and payment authorisation.
A management system such as the the oMM collects and analyses data from a fleet of oMG mobile gateways. The system provides managers with a virtual dashboard to securely track, manage, and troubleshoot all mobile resources, modify configurations, monitor network coverage, troubleshoot IT devices, and more. For example, the oMM provides extensive reporting and real-time status of network connectivity and usage by client devices.
Easy-to-configure reports provide valuable information on the usage patterns of on-board WiFi users, as well as other on-board systems. The oMM’s powerful features for remote management and mass configuration also support the ongoing maintenance and long-term performance needs of a large-scale transit fleet.
Moble-optimised VPN server
When using a multi-radio gateway capable of multi-network operation, it’s critical that secure connectivity is maintained at all times, even when roaming between wide-area networks, to ensure continuous operation of data-intensive applications, such as video. A virtual private network (VPN) server such as the oCM mobile-optimised VPN server provides seamless, secure IP mobility and sub-second switching in a multi-network environment. It consolidates security onto a single platform, and provides advanced security for all the connected devices and applications in the vehicle area network.
The mobile gateways communicate with the oMM Management System using cellular connectivity, so the choice of mobile network operator (MNO) is important. A adaptive connectivity service gives transit operators the broadest cellular coverage, yet simplifies the overall process. Through the service, operators have just one connectivity agreement, one subscriptions management platform, and a single point of support for all connectivity topics. At the same time, they gain access to multiple networks across geographical regions and ensure the best network connection in any given location – all with a single SIM.
Using multi-radio gateways can do several things for a public-bus system. It can turn car-centric commuters into mass-transit riders, it can give legacy riders one more reason to continue using public transport, and it can bring new levels of operational efficiency to public-transport agencies. Over the longer term, having a network of buses already equipped with multi-radio gateways is an important step toward the intermodal transport networks that will give urban dwellers new ways to navigate increasingly congested city environments.
The Sierra Wireless approach to connected transport, which provides everything needed to deploy and manage connected buses, is designed for resilience, flexibility, and efficiency, and helps public-transit agencies increase their current business while preparing for the long term.
Contact Andrew Roesch, Sierra Wireless, Tel 012 665-1369, firstname.lastname@example.org