A recent BAI Communications survey(1) of 1000 UK rail users has revealed that consistent and quality wireless connectivity on trains could be the key to boosting individual and collective productivity in the UK. Moreover, it would also drive operational efficiency across the rail sector.

Connectivity = productivity

For passengers, the provision of consistent mobile connectivity has a huge impact on the quality of their rail experience. The survey revealed:

  • 90% of passengers said they would benefit from improvement of mobile signal
  • 61% said it would reduce their stress levels
  • Three-quarters said it would enhance their journey satisfaction
  • Nearly half said they would take more train journeys if consistent quality mobile signal was available

While the latter would obviously increase ticket receipts, it could even help to ease the pressure on rush hour services by spreading more journeys throughout the day. This was backed up by the fact a third of passengers said connectivity would reduce the amount of time they needed to spend at their place of work, a trend that would see a shift traditional office hours, and increase the viability of remote working.

There are operational benefits for the sector too, as fast reliable mobile networks would allow organisations to share and use anonymised data more effectively. For instance, using wireless communications to centralise the real-time collection and analysis of data could be applied to improve scheduling and service management. Further, it would facilitate fully digitised smart tickets and the opportunity to retire inefficient legacy ticketing systems.

Empowering passengers

Looking at the wider economy, Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, along with a host of businesses and regional bodies agree that there is a direct correlation between railway connectivity and UK productivity. With growth of the latter having stalled since the 2008 financial crisis, addressing this is a priority for the country.

An analysis of the government’s figures shows improving virtual as well as physical connectivity has real potential to help. A recent assessment of UK rail usage statistics suggested that with 1.7 billion annual train journeys and an average journey time of 76 minutes, two billion potential working hours are ‘lost’ each year.

It follows that by increasing people’s usable time during their commute, we could contribute significantly towards tackling the productivity problem. Our survey confirmed this, showing:

  • 29% believe improved signal would allow them to manage their work/life balance better
  • 40% would be more productive, getting work done or clearing their to-do list enroute
  • 45% of passengers would gain 15 – 30 more minutes of usable online time per train journey, and 18% between 30 minutes and an hour

By providing passengers with connectivity, they are empowered to manage their time more effectively, and in ways that work for them.

All aboard!

The productivity potential offered by railway connectivity is enormous, but will of course require close collaboration between the government, Ofcom, Network Rail, communications providers and local communities. There is a lot of scope for improvement as 39% of passengers experience usable signal for less than half of their journey, and 72% report signal drop-outs routinely occur in the same locations. Identifying the right, future-proofed, technology is critical – it’s essential the solution deployed effectively centralises MNO equipment, minimises hardware at trackside, and ensures optimum capacity and data speed.

Getting it right will boost the UK’s economic prospects, as well as its global standing – consolidating its position as a cutting-edge telecoms innovator. Again, this was reflected by our survey, with 72% of respondents agreeing that having mobile connectivity throughout their journey would improve their perception of the UK.

In short, there is much at stake, and the sooner we begin addressing the connectivity challenge, the quicker we will be able to tap into new reserves of productivity throughout the country.

(1) The survey was conducted by Censuswide on behalf of BAI Communications