As mobile-engaged consumers come to demand Wi-Fi without limits, seamless connectivity is now commonly found in retail, hospitality and healthcare locations. One of the last frontiers is transit Wi-Fi that enables passengers to stay connected while riding on public transit.

The latest vehicle models with in-car Wi-Fi show that it’s not hard to keep consumers connected on the road. But what if you don’t have a new Wi-Fi-equipped vehicle, and instead ride the bus or train? In many cities, transit Wi-Fi allows riders to enjoy uninterrupted connectivity on their smartphones and tablets during their daily commutes or while running errands around town.

In New York City’s subway system, for example, Transit Wireless offers free, ad-supported Wi-Fi in more than 100 underground stations. In addition, dozens of bus and train services, such as Amtrak, offer complimentary Wi-Fi to passengers.

For public and privately owned operators, transit Wi-Fi serves a number of use cases, including customer Wi-Fi access, vehicle tracking, digital signage operation, surveillance camera monitoring and driver tablet usage. These applications deliver value-added passenger services, streamlined work processes, increased fleet security and access to essential information on the road or rail.

Cradlepoint is a leader in 4G LTE network solutions, providing enterprise-grade wireless modems, routers and services that serve four primary industry verticals. According to Adam Atwood, vice president of marketing at Cradlepoint, the company’s cloud-managed systems are deployed in the top 25 most populous U.S. cities in mass transit, public safety and site-based applications.

Transit Wi-Fi Becoming Table Stakes for Busy Commuters

With the insatiable consumer demand for connectivity and the technology to support it, onboard Wi-Fi capabilities are turning buses, trains and taxicabs from points of isolation into Internet-connected hubs. Today, a transit Wi-Fi system can support the same applications found in retail stores, including surveillance cameras and discrete employee and public networks.

“The vehicle itself is like a mobile retail store because riders can pay with credit cards, the driver may have a tablet for routing and there may be digital signage that can be managed remotely,” Atwood said. “And the passengers want to be connected because Wi-Fi is expected everywhere these days.”

Cradlepoint’s ruggedized routers can hold several SIM cards for connections to multiple wireless carriers to ensure a higher level of connectivity. As a vehicle moves beyond the service area of one wireless carrier, the device will automatically switch to another carrier that has coverage in that area. The modems also support Wi-Fi as WAN. This technology allows a transit bus, for example, to store security camera video onboard the vehicle rather than transmitting it during the day. Then, when the bus arrives at the depot at the end of the day, the depot is equipped to transfer the video files via the Wi-Fi in the building rather than using the data allotment from the bus, Atwood notes.

“It’s a unique perspective on how to do different things with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi. The transit agency can be assured of good connections and they don’t waste their data plan on sending the video,” he said.

Ancillary Revenue Opportunities Support Wi-Fi Investments

With Cradlepoint’s open API, transit agencies can also tap into third-party solutions for enhanced capabilities. For instance, several providers offer the capability to block streaming video services or content that is inappropriate for viewing in public places. This frees up bandwidth for other devices to connect.

Transit applications of Wi-Fi will also follow developments in retail through targeted advertising possibilities. The advertising networks can collect browsing data to gather demographic information in order to serve up appropriate advertising to smartphone and tablet users on board a bus or train, similar to what’s already occurring in retail locations.

A transit provider can connect with an advertising provider, which can help offset the cost of providing the Wi-Fi service. This is already being done by providers in many major metropolitan areas. “If someone visits on their smartphone or tablet while they’re on the bus, it’s highly likely to be a male user, and the advertising company can push male-oriented advertising to the appropriate users,” Atwood said.

With onboard Wi-Fi, the opportunities for geolocation marketing are very strong. Atwood uses the example of a bus rider moving through a major city. “If they’re on the bus route near the baseball stadium, the advertiser could drop in a banner ad for discounts on season tickets,” Atwood explained. The opportunity to connect with customers via transit Wi-Fi is very customizable and very sophisticated. Atwood adds, “Things are getting more and more sophisticated in the mass transit market.”

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Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is a veteran of the transportation and logistics industry, with carrier-side experience in intermodal, rail and inland and ocean shipping verticals, managing corporate marketing and public policy initiatives. He's also worked as a reporter for a daily newspaper and in corporate and agency public relations. Follow Gary on Twitter: @gary_writes

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