Under pressure: tackling railway connectivity in 2016 (downloadable guide)

Railway connectivityWireless connectivity on trains is set to become a key area of focus for the wireless industry over the coming years. On-board connectivity remains a significant technical challenge; providing connectivity to people within a fast-moving object that often encounters mobile blackspots is inherently difficult. However, pressure is rising from governments and passengers to improve the current levels of wireless service available on trains.

Currently, enhanced on-board wireless solutions face two major barriers. The first is how to enable cellular connectivity. The second is how to secure sufficient capacity for on-train usage and the necessary backhaul where on-train Wi-Fi is installed. While the technologies are available today to solve these challenges, the business case for moving connectivity along remains largely elusive.

rail-connectivityNow though we are seeing some interesting moves in the market that may help to break the commercial deadlock we have seen in recent years. In particular governments around the world are now attempting to ease some of the pressure by investing in connectivity for trains. The UK government is investing £50m to ensure passengers benefit from free Wi-Fi by 2017. The state government of Victoria, Australia, has committed $40m to tackle mobile coverage blackspots across the region’s Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and Traralgon lines.

Although these developments are welcome, ultimately the ‘right’ solution needs to work for train operators, mobile network operators and rail passengers alike. All industry stakeholders now need to work together to produce business cases that can benefit every party involved.

At this time of shifting market dynamics Real Wireless has put together a short guide assessing the current situation with regards to wireless on trains along with our independent expert recommendations for ensuring connectivity remains on track.

There’s a lot of work to do to get acceptable connectivity on trains…

Cmglee_London_Kings_Cross_platform_6Everyone on trains has, at one point, suffered from poor connectivity on their phone, tablet or laptop when working while commuting, trying to access social media or catching up on the day’s news.

Poor on-board connectivity has become a fact of life at the moment, and consumers are becoming increasingly agitated at their inability to receive the same quality of connectivity on trains as they do at home. Nor is this frustration without justification; if the population could receive reliable connectivity onboard trains, it would likely create value for not only passengers and train operators, but the wider economy as well.

It’s therefore no surprise that the government has been vocal on this topic, calling for consumers to be able to receive a similar level of mobile voice and data access on trains as they do in urban areas — irrespective of service provider. The government has attached a specific target to this demand — Wi-Fi on 90% of journeys by 2018 — but, when you consider that just 62% of British rail routes currently have mobile coverage let alone Wi-Fi, you can see there’s still a long way to go.

What many consumers are unaware of when they complain is the sheer expense and complexity of providing reliable connectivity on trains, something we’ve blogged about before on this site.

What’s the industry doing about it?

I recently chaired the inaugural Gigabit Train event at techUK to discuss the technical and commercial challenges of providing wireless connectivity to trains by 2020. At the event were a number of rail wireless providers, including Nomad Digital and Fluidmesh; a satellite provider, Hispasat; the Department of Transport; and Ofcom.

I wrote an article for techUK on my first set of impressions from the workshop: that the technology required for wireless on the railways is starting to get better. However, I wanted to take the opportunity to follow up by considering another issue highlighted in the discussions; the amount of investment necessary to get mobile connectivity to an acceptable standard.

The crux of this problem is that the industry still needs to establish a business case for on-board connectivity. Without one, there is no commercial incentive for train companies to improve standards beyond their current level, especially when many train companies see Wi-Fi as a drain on resources.

A few years ago Real Wireless examined how such a business case could be constructed, for the RSSB. Our report found that, done correctly and efficiently, there’s actually a very clear opportunity to build such a business case — though it must look beyond Wi-Fi to mobile connectivity as a whole. The business case would need to encompass how to:

  • Get advertisers on board and set expectations for ad revenue based on the length of passenger journeys
  • Extend the benefits of connectivity to train companies themselves — as well as their customers — so they can make day-to-day train operations more efficient
  • Introduce new services and applications with a potential ‘killer’ app to improve the passenger experience — because relying on big data isn’t sufficient

With enough of a common view of the viable value propositions of these components the industry can tackle the next significant hurdle: achieving economies of scale by getting stakeholders to agree on a scalable solution and revenue model — something that will prove particularly difficult in the UK’s franchised rail network.

How to make progress? There is no doubt that the rail companies are a significant stakeholder; as part of their digital strategy they should drive the initiative and lead on establishing value chains that point to a sustainable business case. But the mobile operators also have an important role to play, establishing backhaul that is capable of supporting this solution.

The future of wireless and the case for exploring verticals in 5G

CdGpWwtW4AAQjhTAs we outlined last month in our guide to the challenges facing 5G and IoT, the connected devices of the future offer real potential to make existing businesses, services and utilities more efficient and more effective — better tailoring the service they provide.

In the wireless industry, the reality is that there is limited appetite to pursue the new generation of wireless technology (5G) for the industry’s own sake. Despite rapid takeup of LTE (4G) cellular technology, shrinking profit margins are affecting infrastructure spending, leaving finances that may not look attractive to investors and cause difficulties for a further round of investment so soon after completing the last round of upgrades.

The real business case for 5G, therefore, needs to come from the vertical industries that will benefit from the technology.

The rationale behind this was recently vindicated by the results of the European Commission 5G socioeconomic project Real Wireless contributed to, announced in Brussels on the 9th March 2016 (which we explored in more detail in a separate blog post). Our work found that, for an approximate deployment cost of €56 billlion, 5G can be expected to generate benefits of €95.9 billion across automotive, healthcare, transport and utilities alone — per annum.

However further quantitive evidence is required for a vertical-orientated business case to be established, and it falls to the wireless industry to lead the way in kick starting this process.

Any eventual solution will need to account for not only what dynamics are at play in the verticals, but also expert input from the leaders in these vertical industries on how they will evolve in the coming decades. It’s therefore crucial that the other verticals that could benefit from 5G are stakeholders in the development of this technology, to ensure they can fully benefit.

As chair of the executive committee for Cambridge Wireless’s Future of Wireless International Conference, I believe this year’s conference will provide an important opportunity for the industry to come together and explore how wireless can impact these verticals. Not just the cost savings each vertical can enjoy, but the challenges 5G will need to overcome, the opportunities that exist and — crucially — the common themes that span across these vertical industries enabling platforms of scale.

The Future of Wireless International Conference 2016 will be held at The IET, Savoy Place, London on 21–22 June. More information and registration details can be found here: http://www.cambridgewireless.co.uk/futureofwireless/

Real Wireless plays crucial role on spectrum requirements for 5G in European Commission 5G report

At a workshop in Brussels this week, the final results of our eagerly-awaited study on the socioeconomic impact of 5G in Europe, were presented to the European Commission and interested stakeholders.

The in-depth report has been produced by experts and academics from across the industry, including Real Wireless, who spent the past year researching the impact 5G will have on vertical industry sectors — and quantifyingthe economic value of this. The study gathered inputs from industry stakeholder workshops and existing 5G projects to determine which verticals and environments to examine in the study. It was decided to focus on four specific verticals which included healthcare, transport, automotive and utilities and four environments including smart cities, non-urban areas, smart homes, and workplaces.

Enabling verticals to explore new avenues
For the reasons we outlined in our recent report, 5G is much more than a new “mobile industry” technology, offering different benefits to different industries, enabling better machine-to-machine (M2M) communications to improve the way businesses operate.

For healthcare, 5G will pave the way for true preventative care, connecting patients with doctors anywhere, anytime. For automotive and transport, 5G can facilitate real-time telematics data to improve the way drivers interact with their vehicles, support the implementation of driverless cars creating a new media hub for passengers and also enabling authorities to better shape and manage traffic on the roads. And for utilities, 5G can turn the vision of smart meters into a genuine mass-market reality, helping consumers and businesses save money and reduce emissions.

5G — creating 2.4 million jobs and delivering benefits of €50.6 billion+
This project was established by the European Commission to fill a major void in 5G research so far, forecasting the quantitative and qualitative impact that 5G will have on society and the economy.

Real Wireless has played a pivotal role in the production of the report, working specifically on how to overcome spectrum challenges when different use cases run concurrently on the same spectrum band:

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We also were at the heart of both 5G information gathering workshops. Our business and technical expertise enabled us to bridge the gap between representatives of different verticals and those from the telecoms industry.

Forecasts in the report suggest that deployments of 5G will cost around €56 billion, creating around 2.4 million jobs. The investment will in turn deliver benefits of €95.9 billion per annum in 2025 across these four verticals — and €50.6 billion in benefits for the other four environments. Businesses will benefit from more than half (63%) of the benefits, with consumers and society receiving 37% of the benefits.

A crucial milestone in 5G development
Given the lack of significant research in to the socio-economic impact of 5G, and the important role a vertical-industry led business-case will play in any role, this report is a defining moment for the future of mobile connectivity.

The European Commission plans to publish the full report including all results in April 2016.

Industry verticals can see the benefit of 5G — but trust is still an issue

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Last week in Brussels, Real Wireless helped deliver the second and final workshop of the “5G Socioeconomic” study for the European Commission.

The event saw attendees from four vertical sectors — automotive, healthcare, transport and utilities — each with their own needs and priorities for 5G. For example, automotive and transport were looking to reduce accidents and traffic congestion, utilities to reduce energy costs and healthcare needed to improve access and care provision.

During the workshop, participants were tasked with validating 5G for their own sector. They needed to identify the top three 5G capabilities from a list of nine which are part of the capabilities developed by the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) for their own industry. For each, participants captured the economic value, social value and other values — in each case identifying if the value was high, medium or low. Prioritising the capabilities helped those involved realise which were of most value to each sector.

Participants were also tasked with discussing the value of 5G in four key environments; smart homes, smart workplaces, smart cities and non-urban environments. Participants identified the economic, social, environmental and other impacts and value in each environment and subsequently mapped the results to each of the 5G capabilities.

The results — scalability is key
Understandably, the capabilities and requirements varied between sectors. So where healthcare saw the need for a “dynamic increase of network capacity on the fly”, those in utilities did not see that as a key capability.

However, almost all vertical sectors had at least one common capability requirement, such as the ability to deliver a scalable Internet of Things or sensor solution.

The ‘trust and control’ barrier
Before 5G can become a real success, however, concerns were raised around trust. With 5G, industries and businesses will be running their “virtualised” networks over third-party infrastructure. So, many were understandably concerned by the lack of control they would have over that network. Who would be liable for any costs incurred by network outages? And how would operators address concerns around security?

To address these trust issues, verticals argue that network operators will have to relinquish control of their 5G network slice or solution. If we get to a stage where there is harmonised spectrum and stable, reasonable, coherent regulation and policies, industries will buy into 5G, manufacturers will want to produce hardware, there will be economies of scale and no need for more physical networks (verticals that need a network can become MVNOs over 5G).

These findings clearly highlight that industries are willing to embrace 5G, but there are still certain aspects that need careful consideration before each widely adopts it. Based on this feedback, the project team will later write up into its second workshop report. Watch this space…

Real Wireless joins Future Communications & Positioning System Advisory Group 

Guangzhou_South_Railway_Station_3F_East_ConcourseYesterday, Real Wireless attended the Intelligent Rail Infrastructure seminar from the IET. The event examined the physical and technical challenges associated with modernising our railway assets – a challenge that we have long considered in our work.

The reasons why this is a topic that interests us is that wireless offers the potential to revolutionise a global mode of transport. This is not just for passengers, where some individuals lose hundreds of hours each year outside of data connectivity, but also throughout the industry’s large and multinational ecosystem. With the advent of M2M communications, its potential to create a truly intelligent national transport network is highly desirable.

It’s to this end that Real Wireless is pleased to announce it has joined the cross rail-industry Future Communications & Positioning System Advisory Group (FC&PS AG), a sub-group of the Vehicle/Train Control and Communications System Interface Committee.

Members of the group include Network Rail, the Department for Transport, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), the ORR, train operators, RSSB and representatives from the wider communications industry.

The group’s aim is to provide advice and direction to the industry on communications and positioning technologies as enablers to the Rail Technical Strategy Vision 2012.

The FC&PS AG say they welcome our membership to the group,and look forward to our input in the fast moving area of digital wireless technology, particularly given our extensive experience of working in other industries than rail alone.

As a member, Real Wireless will therefore be providing expert input on both future wireless communications technologies, and the feasibility and practicalities of implementation to support the growth of rail communications in Britain.

This is an area we already have significant experience in, thanks to projects such as our landmark business case analysis that found passenger-facing services (ie: customer Wi-Fi) could not ever give ROI itself: it only can deliver this if it is one of a variety of operational benefits.

We look forward to participating at our first meeting in London on 19th May, providing insight and experience and supporting the growth of communications for the rail industry.

For an overview of the opportunities wireless offers for the transport network, download our free guide The business opportunities for wireless in transport. 

If you’d like to learn more about the RSSB, please find them at www.rssb.co.uk, on Twitter @RSSB_rail, and LinkedIn RSSB.

Real Wireless warns existing networks need upgrade to cope with demand for wireless on transport

Industry experts warn of reliance on public networks and lack of holistic business case in transport wireless services

Current approaches to the provision of mobile connectivity to travellers on public and private transport risk failing to meet demand or justify themselves financially. This is according to independent wireless technology advisory firm Real Wireless.

Instead, a service that meets demand will only be possible through the rollout of additional custom mobile infrastructure, in order to complement the existing provision of public wireless networks.

The expense involved in this approach means that a comprehensive business case is vital before any rollout. In many cases, a positive return on investment will only be possible if transport operators take a holistic approach to planning wireless service rollouts, combining revenue from passengers with operational efficiency savings in other areas of their business.

To explore the additional services and business models that can be enabled by wireless, Real Wireless has published a new guide ‘The business opportunities for wireless in transport’. Bringing together the experience and insight of its experts from across the wireless industry, both working in and outside of the transport sector, it provides an overview of the potential services that must be taken into account by transport companies looking at rolling out wireless services.

Transportation has seen a series of high profile announcements in 2014 regarding the integration of wireless services. The highest profile of these have centered on the introduction of in-vehicle data connectivity for passengers on railways and airlines, delivering benefits for both customer experience and productivity and creating new revenue streams for operators.

However ‘wireless services’ extend far beyond data connectivity, covering other technologies such as Wi-Fi, cellular reception, machine-to-machine communications and ‘big data’ analytics. Similarly, it can also bring benefits to the companies operating the transport services, delivering operational efficiencies and new opportunities to streamline the business.

“For passengers, the benefits of having access to data services on the move are obvious,” said Mark Keenan, Commercial Director at Real Wireless. “But our analysis shows that operators must carefully consider all their options before proceeding with a rollout.

“Transport operators should build a comprehensive business case for the introduction of wireless, taking in to account both direct and indirect cost savings and revenue streams and fully factoring in recent and expected advances in technology. A well considered approach can prove highly lucrative for operators and regulators, as well as streamlining their everyday operations and enhancing their customers’ experience.”

In the report, Real Wireless identifies the added benefits wireless can offer the following sectors:

  • Railways – including enhanced customer services, better insights in to customer behaviour and reduced carriage weight
  • Aerospace – including reduced turnaround time, more effective airport security and crisis management and revenue from on demand content
  • Roads – including accident prevention, shorter accident response times, and enhanced traffic flow systems to reduce congestion
  • Maritime - including onboard cellular networks, better tracking of cargo and new revenue streams for port operators

The Real Wireless guide to the business opportunity wireless presents the transport sector, ‘The business opportunities for wireless in transport’, is available to download free of charge here.

Real Wireless bolsters transport expertise with new consultant

15-year veteran Oliver Bosshard brings a variety of technical, practical and management skills

Independent wireless advisory service Real Wireless has recruited Oliver Bosshard as a managing consultant. Oliver brings a range of expertise, particularly in delivering wireless to transport environments and into venues.

One of his key strengths lies in combining his practical knowledge of the engineering and operational requirements for designing and maintaining cellular and multi-point networks, with his extensive knowledge of mobile technologies and how to practically implement solutions in specialist locations.

“Oliver is a great addition to the Real Wireless team and we’re thrilled to be welcoming him to the business,” said Professor Simon Saunders, Director of Technology at Real Wireless. “His experience leading teams in the installation of national wireless infrastructure will make him a valuable asset in the planning and management of wireless projects for our clients. We’re also particularly interested in his knowledge of specialist wireless solutions, bolstering our ability to offer wireless solutions for difficult venues and environments.”

“It feels like there was a perfect opportunity for myself at Real Wireless,” said Oliver. “DAS and transport are real growth areas for the business and projects are becoming ever more complex and technical in their requirements. Having extensive personal experience of working on specialist DAS and transport solutions that incorporated multiple wireless technologies, coverage techniques and business considerations, it was clear that I could bring a valuable skill set to the business.”

Oliver is a 15 year veteran of the wireless telecoms industry, having started his career working on RF planning and optimization for Orange Switzerland. During his tenure, he took on the lead role of the national special projects team, using DAS to deliver multi-operator coverage to shopping malls, airports, trains and railway tunnels.

In 2004 he founded his own technical consultancy company, specializing in network design, rollout and management with project in Africa and various Caribbean islands, before becoming the head of ‘Wireless Innovations Group UK & Ireland’, where he purpose built a team for the design, deployment, management and monitoring of wireless solutions to Wembley Stadium and the O2 Arena.

Connecting vehicles and the growing M2M market: The Transport SIG

Real Wireless expert John Okas is one of four people who recently founded a Cambridge Wireless Special Interest Group (SIG), dedicated to looking at the growing ‘Connected vehicle’ sector.

The connected car is a concept that gets a lot of people excited and rightly so. The potential applications are enormous and it’s one of the more tangible areas of the nascent Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications market.

The new SIG will look at the part played by wireless in the automotive and transport sector, covering private and public vehicles, as well as road, rail and air transport systems.

Its remit covers everything from streaming music to your car, autonomous cars, and Wi-Fi on trains, buses and planes, through to vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle road management systems and pay as you go insurance. It will even examine the connected bus on demand services that inform users where a bus is and its estimated time of arrival.

It’s not just drivers who will benefit from these services; this technology will bring a lot of new companies into the space, including many who will never have previously seen wireless as a potential revenue stream.

For the manufacturer and its brand it provides new opportunities to keep the driver tied in to its ecosystem, via services such as remote diagnostics, vehicle tracking, servicing and preventative maintenance that detects issues that may need attention. These are likely to be connected using a 3G/4G unit in the vehicle, with a fixed SIM that is inaccessible to the driver.

There is also the potential for Wi-Fi connectivity to be supplied to the vehicle, as many cities and mobile operators look to providing carrier grade Wi-Fi services.

The M2M sector offers a lot of potential, but it’s also an incredibly complex and technical ‘system of systems’. Vehicles are set to have significant computational, connectivity and human-to-machine interfacing capabilities, both built-in and stemming from passengers’ phones and tablet devices.

There are plenty of technical and commercial challenges ahead before this sector will mature, and that’s why we’ve helped establish this new Cambridge Wireless SIG. If we’re to hope to make the most of this new technology and market, all of the companies in the space need to get together to share their collective expertise and experience.