Maritime and Transport | Rail

The push in demand for onboard connectivity

21 May 2014, by Informa Australia

wifiThanks to the rise of mobile devices, people today are more connected than ever before. This means that public access to networks such as 4G and Wi-Fi is no longer luxury, but rather an expectation of a well-developed city.

People are demanding these services in practically any public environment they step into, from libraries and cafes to even forms of transport such as trains and buses. As such, public transport operators have risen to the challenge and many are making onboard connectivity not only a unique selling proposition for their services, but rather a standard feature.

Wi-Fi and 4G are two of the main connectivity options that have been cropping up in public transport around the world – we take a look at some recent key developments in this area.

Speed is of the essence for Amtrak

No matter how fast a train can travel, its passengers can still be left feeling frustrated if its onboard Wi-Fi is painfully slow.

That was an issue that American rail services Amtrak had to address last year as customers complained of lethargic Wi-Fi connectivity. Slow internet connections were a common pain point for many of Amtrak’s customers, especially those travelling on its Acela Express trains.

In response, Amtrak decided to capitalise on the mobile 4G network to boost bandwidth and speed, transcending the limitations of relying solely on Wi-Fi. However, some limitations, such as poor mobile network coverage in some areas, could present obstacles moving forwards.

“We continue to place a strong focus on improving customer satisfaction, and this upgrade is delivering the improved speeds and connectivity required to maintain a competitive edge,” said Deborah Stone-Wulf, Amtrak chief of sales distribution and customer service.

Coasting through connectivity issues in the UK

In a testament to the value train operators place on enhancing the passenger experience, UK-based trained operator East Coast spent AUD$3.95 million late last year to ramp up Wi-Fi speeds on its trains.

A number of factors were behind East Coast’s decision to make such a hefty investment. Firstly, despite being the first train service in the UK to offer onboard Wi-Fi more than a decade ago, the uptake in mobile devices has pushed demand even higher. With almost all passengers using some form of device in transit – and expecting to be connected – it was inevitable that capacity had to be expanded.

East Coast also identified the availability of using Wi-Fi as a key pull factor for passengers, prompting them to travel on the tracks rather than by car or plane.

Making high-speed trains even faster

As one of the most tech-savvy countries, it’s no surprise that China would be one of the leaders in onboard connectivity technologies.

Chinese technology firm Feitian built a special network at the start of this year to deliver Wi-Fi to high-speed trains across the mainland. The network is the end result of a year’s worth of collaboration by Feitian, Southwest Jiaotong University and local railway authorities.

Where is Australia headed?  The Telecommunications and Train Control Conference will touch on the topic of increasing demand for better communications in rail.  For more information about the event program and to register, please visit the conference website.

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