Onboard connectivity is an increasingly essential facet of the 21st century public transport offering. Reliable connectivity can help you to avoid disruptions, choose a better route, find a vacant seat and work as you travel enabling a stress-free, productive journey.
A seamless online experience is what passengers desire and increasingly expect. At McLaren we’re working to enable a networked future that both fulfils this need and goes beyond it – because richer onboard connectivity will unlock a myriad of possibilities for transport providers and authorities to enhance the customer experience in other ways.
Operators looking to improve connectivity face many challenges: the suitability of ageing rolling stock; lengthy out-of-service times during conversion; the difficulty of transitioning between service providers; the limitations of extant technology in providing a consistent service while the train is moving; and the cost-control issues associated with mobile data.
We’ve drawn on our experience in trackside and mobile data networks to develop patented solutions specifically tailored to the requirements of train operators.
During a Formula 1 grand prix weekend, the McLaren race team acquires and processes millions of data points from our high-performance sensors, not only to monitor the health of the cars but also using that data to inform potentially race-winning strategic insights. That data must flow continuously wherever the cars are, whether they’re running between skyscrapers, through tunnels or under trees.
To meet that challenge, we’ve spent over three decades perfecting robust hardware and sophisticated software that provides finely detailed information at speed, no matter how harsh the operating environment.
As the transport industry moves towards intelligent mobility, the data platforms and associated analytics applications that form part of the intelligent transport offering rely on complex communications platforms that consume different types of connectivity. Our background in real-time data management has enabled us to develop a solution that integrates the entire on-train ecosystem into one connectivity platform, with rich possibilities for augmenting the customer experience and improving operator efficiency.
Importantly, given the projected life of rolling stock, our solutions can be deployed at any stage of the asset’s life. We offer a high-performance virtualised connectivity platform that has the flexibility to transfer onto many different types of existing hardware – and which can be deployed quickly, generating an immediate uplift in customer satisfaction while minimising the time units are out of service.
Since that connectivity technology is evolving rapidly – and will continue to do so throughout the lifespan of any piece of rolling stock – we believe in making the right choices. Given the lengthy and invasive procedures required to install WiFi capability, and the consequent effects on availability of rolling stock for service, choosing only a basic system represents a clutch of missed opportunities to deliver a better experience for the passenger and enable greater efficiencies across the operator’s wider business.
We’re working with a number of major international transport providers, each with a diverse range of physical assets, to install high-performance, budget-sensitive components with the longest possible service life. We understand that refit schedules can cause issues with rolling stock availability, so we aim to offer the best possible performance from day one and avoid the need for stock to go out of service for further invasive overhauls a few years down the line.
Our rapid migration plan can deliver an immediate performance uplift to fleets with extant WiFi capability and reduce the cost to change if more extensive hardware upgrades are planned: there is, for instance, no need to have two IT service facilities operating in parallel for several months while the fleet is refitted.
Our patented connectivity solutions combine link control and load-balancing technologies to deliver high-performance aggregation, making the most efficient use of all the data links available. Other systems which use cellular data can accumulate a significant amount of overhead, cutting into the proportion allocated to passengers and in effect forcing the operator to buy more data. We deliver maximum efficiency by increasing the proportion of the available bandwidth that’s shared with the end user, and our technology is designed to handle gracefully the inevitable outages caused by the passage of the train through areas with weak or no signal. It also recovers more quickly after encountering breaks in coverage.
Our system also optimises the consumption of mobile data in a hierarchical way to achieve the best network performance while keeping the operational cost of the data within set expenditure limits. It can share the allowance dynamically between all the trains in service subject to demand – allowing more during peak times, for instance – balancing the user experience better between quiet trains and ones that are full.
The outcome is a dramatically improved user experience, and a greater return for the operator from their investment in data capacity.
Our connectivity solution goes beyond providing the onboard WiFi experience. One of the unique capabilities of our architecture is to allow the train to integrate into the operator’s IT network and enable true quality of service to be applied to all the components connected to it. CCTV, for instance, need not be transmitting continuously to the operations centre using a proportion of the train’s network capacity and therefore diminishing the customers’ bandwidth; this and other operational data can be managed dynamically.
This level of integration throws open an incredible set of opportunities when you combine it with our predictive analytics capacity. Being able to predict future occupancy levels based on historic data helps operators plan on-board services such as the availability of food more efficiently, reducing wastage, while real-time occupancy data helps passengers to make better-informed choices.
Imagine being able to know where every available seat is on your train before you arrive at the station, and being able to reserve one in real-time – or change your mind and take a train you know will be less busy.
That’s not just a better customer experience, it’s a game-changer.