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How the latest vehicle connectivity technologies can create new competitive advantages for bus fleet operators

For many years, bus fleet operators have been able to offer basic internet services to their passengers, based on 3G or 4G communications and, probably, Wi-Fi 5 (IEEE 802.11 ac) which was released in 2014.By now, offering such services is not enough to make a fleet operator competitive. Instead, failing to provide even this level of connectivity would become a competitive setback. And these services can be very limited; some bus operators, for example, will not allow passengers to stream videos, because of bandwidth limitations. Others, however, have been more ambitious, and have been introducing new services to enhance passenger experience since 3G/LTE connectivity has allowed them to do so.

But technology has progressed further, and the possibilities for connected services have been transformed by the arrival of 5G and Wi-Fi 6. Together, they add up to a seamless high end link right from the operator’s control centre or cloud all the way into the passengers’ phone or laptop devices within the vehicles in service – not to mention connected vehicle equipment that allows better real-time fleet visibility and control for operational management.

Plans for improved customer experience and fleet operational management become far easier to implement and expand upon. No more bandwidth worries about multiple devices streaming video, for just one example.

A total passenger experience

For the passenger, the benefits extend beyond their experience onboard the vehicle; booking their journeys can become as sophisticated and flexible as for airlines and rail. Cloud-based applications can coordinate with on-board consoles and mobile apps to allow perfect synchronization of users, fare collection and bus agencies for flexible fares and maximization of occupation rates on buses. Operators can also use context-sensitive charging – different prices for weekends or last-minute purchases, for example – to maximize profit per customer.

Once onboard, 90 percent of passengers today use their own smartphone, tablet or laptop instead of expecting operator-provided seat-back screens. This saves investment and maintenance costs for operators, so they can focus instead on value-added services. Along with better LTE/5G and Wi-Fi, newer compression algorithms and better video reproducers support video on demand (VoD) and TV broadcasts to passenger devices. Passengers can follow the latest sporting events, news, preferred TV series and other broadcasts on demand – and some are willing to pay for these services.

Sometimes passengers may prefer new film releases, video games, or other innovative content. Operators can fulfil these preferences, while generating extra profit, through launching pay-per-view schemes which can easily be managed as VoD solutions.

Buses have traditionally attracted passengers travelling for personal rather than business reasons: such users particularly value competitive pricing and attractive entertainment. However, advanced connectivity allows operators to win new types of passengers – business travellers who prioritise premium, high performance services over cost. Such travellers need Internet access at all times, to manage their possibly international commuting requirements or even trading activities.

Such passengers – and, notwithstanding the comments above, some personal passengers – will pay extra for wider bandwidth, premium services. Operators can satisfy these demands by offering premium services that prioritize certain passenger groups according to their needs.

Online shopping also offers exciting opportunities, for both operators and passengers. Passengers can make their journeys more comfortable and enjoyable by ordering meals on line for collection at the next service area, or traditional products from the region being traversed.

Business and international passengers may value other online shopping channels, particularly an online travel agency through which they can organize onward travel, hotel accommodation or even last-minute tourism packages.

While offering these services for the benefit of their passengers, operators are building channels that they control; this in turn allows them to negotiate valuable external partnerships – for more influence as well as more revenue streams.

Improved visibility and control for vehicle fleet operation

However, high-performance connectivity allows operators not only to transform the passengers’ experience, but also to vastly improve their fleet’s operational efficiency, performance and security. This becomes easier as Wi-Fi 6 becomes more widespread. Fulfilling vehicle operational needs calls for many connected IoT equipment items in addition to the passengers’ portable devices. Wi-Fi 6 features an expanded access point capacity, better able to support the competing demands of IoT sensors and users’ devices. This capability is complemented by 5G’s lower latency, higher capacity and increased bandwidth compared to 4G. Vehicle online environments can be scaled without sacrificing user performance.

Multiple IoT items can work together to optimise the vehicle’s operational performance. Real-time geographical location information can be generated by a GPS system with NMEA compatibility, while remote-controlled, Wi-Fi compatible CCTV cameras can provide surveillance and security while also gathering operational data for later analysis. An onboard ruggedised PC can collect and transmit data from odometers, temperature and moisture sensors, panic buttons, and any other sensors as required.

Together, these devices give operators opportunities for much-improved visibility, control, and future improvements and driver training. Both the route and the drivers’ performance can be tracked for route and driver efficiency – are they optimised for fuel efficiency, traffic, time and passenger comfort? Monitoring can also detect poor driver behaviour, ranging from route deviation to speeding and illegal activities.

Data can also be used to keep the fleet punctual, and to co-ordinate fast responses during breakdown or accident incidents. Tracking capabilities can also provide insurance companies with the geolocation data they need.

On board security cameras need high performance communications to realize their potential; only then can operators become aware of incidents such as aggressive behaviour in real time, allowing them to take immediate and effective action. This mitigates poor outcomes and improves wellbeing for passengers. These security cameras also allow operators to plan for on-board emergencies that require activation of emergency protocols and preparation of emergency services en route. For maximum security, emergency communications can be encrypted, and prioritised over other applications such as on-board entertainment.

On arrival back at the depot, the security cameras can automatically download their data to the operator’s central system, using Wi-Fi rather than the LTE link.

It is clear that the above factors mean that advanced connectivity allows operators to not only improve their operational efficiency and profitability, but also offer a more compelling and competitive customer experience for existing and new passengers. But the possibilities for market growth stretch even beyond this. During transportation contract negotiations, both government and private buyers give significant preference to offers that provide the latest technological advantages, with connectivity being central to all considerations.

As a long term key player in the vehicle connectivity market, Teldat is well-positioned to supply high end connectivity solutions for bus transportation applications, as embodied in their Teldat H2-Automotive+ in-vehicle 3G/4G/5G bus Wi-Fi 6 router. This rugged router, which provides management, monitoring and vehicle security, plus advanced passenger connectivity benefits,  highlights Teldat’s R&D commitment to continuous vehicle connectivity improvement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alicia Ruppel

Alicia Ruppel

Alicia Ruppel, graduated in Sociology and Graphic Design, is a Marketing Manager working within the Teldat's Corporate Marketing Department.

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