The connectivity outlook for transportation and smart cities: 5G, AI and more

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How can transport authorities and operators work together to invest in 5G networks to enable smart city services that help them stay safe and connected?

A new report from BAI Communications has explored the themes of transport and connectivity within smart cities. The study, which surveyed more than 2,400 rail users in Hong Kong, London, New York City, Sydney and Toronto, emphasised the importance of advanced network infrastructure and data-driven services.

Justin Berger, chief strategy officer at BAI Communications, outlines the rationale. “Local governments and transit authorities know it’s important to build and maintain wireless infrastructure of the latest generation, given that users’ demand for the network increases exponentially over time,” he tells Telecoms.

The good news is that demand is certainly there. 91% of rail users polled said they would support government authorities investing in new and reliable wireless and fibre networks, while 85% said they were interested in 5G. A similar proportion (83%) noted support for their city investing in a 5G network.

What’s more, four in five (81%) rail users said they were at least somewhat comfortable with their anonymised data being used to improve transport systems. A full nine in 10 said they would enjoy their journeys more if rail networks evolved using connectivity, data, and AI.

The report adds that ‘seizing these opportunities will position government, businesses and transit authorities to deliver numerous benefits’, from improved safety and security, to new business opportunities and innovation, and transforming public spaces. Berger notes awareness will only grow going forward. “As we build IoT applications and data-driven services that support modern use cases, that can ingest and analyse vast amounts of data in real time, we will need the infrastructure to support it – and that infrastructure is 5G,” he says.

Understandably, the Covid-19 pandemic has made the need to travel in a safe environment even more relevant. In much the same way that lockdown, and forced remote working policies, accelerated cloud-based initiatives, transport authorities can look to this as an opportunity to improve.

“In this context where social distancing is a key consideration in crowded places, it is understood that communications infrastructure is essential to the economic recovery of any major city,” says Berger. “It is a critical consideration in how we design public spaces and how transport authorities and operators can ensure safe experiences for citizens accessing those spaces.”

Berger notes that some transport operators are already starting to leverage anonymised mobile data to better understand user behaviour, with this filtering down to train availability and timetabling.

“Citizens certainly expect public services such as transport to adjust to their new usage patterns and changing circumstances in real time, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Berger. “Advanced communications networks and their applications can help authorities and public transport operators to respond to rail users’ new ways of travelling, working and living in a more efficient way.”

This all sounds great on paper; so why not go ahead and build? From the transport authorities’ perspective, there are challenges which could inhibit taking the first step. As leading telecoms analyst Dean Bubley points out in the report, assessing trade-offs between utility and privacy “are complex but critical to gaining user trust and acceptance.”

BAI Communications offers neutral host solutions and reliable network infrastructure to deliver connected communities and help governments and transport authorities unlock the economic and social benefits for citizens as a result. Work has already begun in many of the metros surveyed. BAI is working with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to create a data analytics solution which enables access to anonymised device association data to improve passenger flow, while Transit Wireless (a majority-owned BAI Communications company) in New York has five data centres optimised for edge computing, to take into account future 5G developments.

“We have already been sharing the results with our partners, the transit operators and the MNOs, and we are seeing that the results resonate with a lot of them,” says Berger. “What is great for transit operators – as well as municipalities and any other landlords and infrastructure owners – is that neutral host companies like BAI are willing to invest in what ultimately is a revenue stream for them. For MNOs, on the other hand, we provide a cost-effective way to respond to the growing demand for strong networks.”

Overall, the report made the following conclusions:

  • Advanced network infrastructure is the key to a smart city
  • Data-driven services make transportation safer, smarter and more efficient
  • Connectivity gives citizens control over their time, their work and their wellbeing

To read the full report, ‘Transport and Connectivity: Smarter Infrastructure for a Smarter City‘, download here (email required).

Picture credit: Getty Images

This article is in association with BAI Communications

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