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Network as a sponge cake - connectivity outlook report 2021 - brendon oreilly

The network as a sponge cake: A recipe for public transport connectivity

by Brendan O'Reilly

30 November 2021

Every edition of our annual Connectivity outlook report reveals something new about what passengers expect from public transport connectivity, and this year is no exception. In 2021 we learned riders want more technology to enhance their transit experience. They are fully behind public investment in advanced connectivity infrastructure. And for the first time ever, coming through the global pandemic, safety and cleanliness top the list of people’s transit priorities.

The importance of public transport connectivity is increasing in line with our generally more connected lives. People think about connectivity less and less because they just expect it to be there, like oxygen. We really only notice when it’s absent.

With many people returning to daily public transport after being online at home for more than a year, they will notice when they can’t connect. They’ve gotten used to always-on coverage and having more productive time in their day, whether for work or keeping in contact with family and friends. Few are going to want to give that up, as was clear when we began surveying riders in the middle of 2021. With an overwhelming 91% of respondents saying they believe all world-class cities should have seamless mobile coverage above and below ground.

91 percent public transport connectivity- connectivity outlook report 2021

Transport authorities are beginning to recognise their role in providing city-wide connectivity and how they themselves can use that connectivity for efficient operations and a better, data-driven customer experience. Per this year’s survey, that experience will increasingly involve touchless technologies such as paperless ticketing, sanitization monitoring and crowd management, all of which contribute to convenience, cleanliness and safety.

‘Baking’ a future-ready platform

The opportunity for public transport authorities, as they look to meet current needs for ubiquitous coverage and smart applications, is to build for both today and tomorrow. At BAI Communications, we like to say that means thinking about the network as a sponge cake.

Sponge cakes are versatile confections because a single base can take on any combination of flavourings. This is exactly what a future-ready public transport network should be: a flexible base that can support any mix of solutions, sensors, analytics and more, from pollution and traffic monitors to personalised trip planning apps. The network is the base and the ‘flavour’ comes from the use cases.

Having all the pieces in place from the outset makes it possible to build once, build right and for the future. Maximising initial investments and creating an infrastructure that over five or ten years can accommodate new technologies (such as 6G) without overhauling the entire network. That’s our goal in long-term transport projects like those we are undertaking in major cities across the word, including on the New York Subway, the London Underground and the San Francisco Metrohere base ingredients including distributed antenna systems (DAS), street-level small cells, fibre and Wi-Fi enable our partners to add in layers of ‘flavours’.

Creating a digital lifeline

When you are confident that your network foundation can keep up with evolving needs, there is more space to think about which needs are most important to meet first. This enables transport authorities, cities and MNOs to align their visions for the network’s role, whether in public transport or for the community as a whole. Public transport has always been, and continues to be, a physical lifeline that connects people to their cities. If it can evolve to be a backbone for connectivity throughout cities, it stands also to become a digital lifeline that will connect people with their cities.

Passengers seem to be aware of this. In our 2021 Connectivity outlook survey, we gathered perspectives from more than 2,500 transit users in New York, Sydney, Toronto, Hong Kong and London. While previous years focused solely on rail, this time we expanded the research to include people who use subways, light rail, buses and ferries. Respondents overwhelmingly said, to the tune of 93%, that they support public spending on advanced communications infrastructure for transport and beyond.

The journey of why

To be effective, those investments will need careful planning, a long-term lens and technical foresight. They will also require collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including transport authorities, cities and governments, MNOs and businesses. Setting a common vision and finding common ground early on establishes a clear ‘journey of why’ so that, going forward, everyone is guided by an agreed-to set of goals.

The neutral hosting model supports that journey. With a single, non-proprietary network infrastructure designed and deployed for all parties to use as a base, stakeholders can focus on bringing the services and applications that will realise the overall goals. The neutrally hosted network becomes a rallying point for all vested parties and can be built to deliver value over 20 years or more instead of seeking only immediate returns on investment. It can provide the future-facing transit connectivity that will bring smart communities to life.

To learn more about how connectivity in public transport is evolving, download our 2021 Connectivity Outlook report: Smarter transport, smarter communities. And watch for upcoming blogs taking a closer look at some of the key findings from the report.

Group CTO - BAI Communications - Brendan O'Reilly - square2

Brendan O'Reilly

Group Chief Technology Officer, BAI Communications

Download the Connectivity outlook report 2021

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