Salvatore Sinapi

"Connectivity in public transport is gradually breaking down the border between the fixed world and the mobile world, opening up unprecedented prospects for operators and passengers."

While high-speed Wi-Fi for passengers comes across as the norm in quality public transport today, the issue of mobile connectivity, much greater, is already relegating this question to the past. From the operation of systems to their predictive maintenance, from the Internet of Things to artificial intelligence, connectivity in future public transport is gradually breaking down the border between the fixed and the mobile and shaking up the transport system itself. Decryption by Salvatore Sinapi, Transport Director, International Operations ENGIE Ineo (Icomera).

With the acquisition of Icomera in June 2017, ENGIE Ineo became the world’s leading provider of Wi-Fi for public transport. Is access to Wi-Fi on journeys now a matter of course?

Wi-Fi access on journeys is now commonly viewed as being indispensable for many public transport modes (TGV, bus, regional trains, etc.). The internet connection must allow passengers to lose as little time as possible (work or entertainment) while also encouraging them to use a more environmentally friendly mode of transport. In fact, and especially in France, access to on-board Wi-Fi is still a vast area to be conquered; we’re only at the beginning of this story! The Scandinavian countries are clearly a few steps ahead in this area, closely followed by the UK and Germany. So, much remains to be done and the market potential of Wi-Fi for passengers is immense, whether in France, Europe or the world! But passenger Wi-Fi in transport is only one element of mobile connectivity, a subject that will eventually revolutionize the transport system as a whole.

The challenge is to make public transport even more attractive, by improving “the passenger experience” while simultaneously meeting the needs of transport operators.

In other words, access to Wi-Fi for passengers in public transport is only one aspect of mobile connectivity?

A very small aspect… What underlies it is cutting-edge technology that will play a role in the evolution of the entire public transport system.
This innovative technology, driven by Icomera, is helping to remove the invisible wall between the world of the mobile (vehicles) and that of fixed infrastructure (railways or roads, stations, control and maintenance centres, etc.). Connectivity drastically reduces and re-orders the “space” between these two worlds, thereby encouraging a complete paradigm shift that also responds to organizational and operational changes observed elsewhere. The higher the speed and quality of connection, the more central and organic the connectivity of the very architecture of transport systems becomes.
Connectivity will serve the needs of operators by optimizing systems operation and maintenance. It is already at the heart of modern signalling systems. But well beyond this, the evolution of connectivity requirements between rolling stock and infrastructure, quantified beyond 1 GB/s from the beginning of the 2020s, will quickly render GSM-R* and even LTE** obsolete by rapidly exceeding even the performances promised by 5G!
Technologies like TraXside [TM], a solution Icomera has been developing since 2016, now offer this capacity, which can already be described as “ultra broadband”.

Do big data and artificial intelligence have a role to play in mobile connectivity and embedded communication solutions?

If we provide operators with very high-quality connectivity between the mobile world and infrastructure, it becomes possible to have a “digital clone” of the transport system on the ground, analyse any deviation from nominal behaviour in real time, and thereby anticipate and prevent a breakdown or failure. This opens up huge prospects in terms of improving availability and reducing maintenance and operating costs. Digitalization, IoT and AI will play an essential role in these objectives, and efficient connectivity will be increasingly pivotal in transport systems designed to be even safer, more attractive, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

* GSM-R: Global System for Mobile communication for Railways: The international standard dedicated to the rail system, based on the same process as the mobile phone standard.
** LTE: Long Term Evolution: the technology of 4G mobile networks.

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