I recently had the pleasure of presenting at the 5G Realised conference on 5G innovation in smart transport. Other speakers across the two-day event included the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman MP, and Chief Digital Officer at the Mayor of London’s office, Theo Blackwell MBE.

Attendees explored the real-life applications of 5G and the gaps that it can fill in our daily lives by improving connectivity for consumers and service providers. As Director of Engineering at BAI Communications UK, I’m focused on bringing innovative next generation technology to life, and the event was a fantastic opportunity to share how we are using continuous connectivity to deliver innovative services on transport networks around the globe.

I was part of a panel – titled 5G Automotive and Smart Transport Realised – which examined the potential of connectivity to revolutionise transport of all types, and I have summarised the key points from my presentation below.

1. Revolutionising the passenger experience

BAI Communications has been using next generation wireless technology – which encompasses 5G – to deliver Wi-Fi and cellular services for passengers in New York, Toronto and Hong Kong for more than 20 years.

Enabling connectivity on transport networks has allowed us to deliver innovative services for people and improve the overall experience of public transport. These can easily be replicated in other places too, for example at ports, airports or on roads, as my fellow panellists explained.

In Toronto we have been using data to improve station management. Working with the transport authority, we can analyse anonymised data usage to measure passenger flow. Machine Learning techniques can then predict when passengers are likely to travel and when crowding might occur. The use-case for next generation wireless technology has become even more relevant in a COVID-19 world. Our infrastructure can enable our partner transport authorities to schedule trains, manage escalators and program lifts to enable social distancing.

2. 5G will accelerate data consumption and drive the need for infrastructure

In the UK, our data consumption almost doubles every two years. To put this in context, imagine your local highway carrying twice the amount of road traffic within a year, without the option to widen or add a lane. The challenge for mobile network operators (MNOs) is to provide the levels of connectivity that consumers expect.

Previously, infrastructure would be installed on rooftops, but as our cities grow, access to new sites can be a problem. Planning permission, the availability of space, and cost often stand in the way. This issue creates a compelling case for outdoor small cells across cities where there is concentrated demand for connectivity. Small cells are miniature radio antennas that are installed utilising street-based assets such as bus stops, information kiosks, billboards, manhole covers and lamp posts – to bring capacity as close to the consumer as possible.

At BAI, we are working around the globe to deliver the seamless connections that consumers expect through advancing the use of small cells and widening the availability of our neutral host infrastructure. The neutral host model allows us to have significant access to street-based assets for small cells, in areas where there is high user footfall. Our infrastructure is available to a range of MNOs, which means they can provide the continuous connectivity consumers expect at an optimal cost without needing to deploy their own unique network.

In an effort to further the use of small cells as an efficient way of providing high-speed connectivity, I recently joined the Small Cell Forum board. The Small Cell Forum partners with communication service providers and vendors and works alongside regulators to remove barriers to deploying this innovative technology. It is a privilege to help the Forum achieve its aims and I am really looking forward to starting work through the partnership.

3. Passengers expect continuous connectivity

This September, BAI published the 2020 Connectivity Outlook report, which collates the opinions and attitudes of rail users around the world on mobile connectivity, smart city infrastructure and data-driven services in public transport. We surveyed more than 2,400 rail users across five global cities to help public bodies better understand the services that passengers expect on public transport.

There was overwhelming support for continuous connectivity on transport systems, with 93% of respondents in favour. A further 83% also supported investment in a 5G network throughout the city.

4. The 5G future is today

Overall, it was clear from the range of speakers at the conference that 5G will enable innovation across most aspects of our lives, from enhancing entertainment platforms to improving health and social care, and of course, upgrading the safety, speed and experience of train travel and other transport networks. And those innovations are happening right now.

You can read more about how 5G will boost consumer confidence in transport networks in our 2020 Connectivity Outlook report:

My presentation and panel can be seen here: