Whether by road, rail or air, public transport operators across Australia know it’s no longer enough to simply get passengers from Point A to Point B safely and on time.

They’re now expected to deliver a truly exceptional passenger experience every step of the way. Seamless, reliable wireless connectivity is key to delivering on that — while also making transport operations more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective.

It’s difficult getting connectivity from coast to coast

Australians have high expectations when it comes to mobile connectivity. The country’s mobile network operators (MNOs) have historically been very forthcoming in rolling out generous mobile data plans, so people are accustomed to accessing large volumes of data whenever and wherever they need them.

That said, ensuring 100% mobile coverage in a country as big as Australia can be a challenge. Besides Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s other cities are not as large as in other countries and are separated by vast distances, with lots of smaller satellite towns in between — not to mention the rural and remote areas that make up most of the country. Our low population density means the business case isn’t always there to build out coverage, reinforcing the digital divide between rural and urban parts of the country: MNOs have specific capital budgets and it costs a lot to bring fibre and power to less populated areas. While the government has created the Mobile Black Spot Program to help fill in the connectivity gaps, it doesn’t always provide the coverage customers want or need.

These areas of low connectivity can be a particular issue when it comes to travel and commuting, with each mode of transport commonly used by Australians coming with its own set of challenges.

With trains, for example, connectivity isn’t generally a problem when passing through a major city. But in remote areas, getting a signal into a metal structure travelling at high speed isn’t easy. And in any location, rural or urban, going through a tunnel that isn’t equipped with a distributed antenna system (DAS) can cut off connectivity entirely.

Given how spread out our cities are, it just makes sense that Australia has one of the largest per-capita use of domestic air travel in the world. But only some airlines currently offer in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity, and the quality isn’t always up to the standards travellers expect. Connectivity in airports is also lacking, with most operators not yet fully deploying their 5G network to bring more wireless capacity into these buildings.

Even travelling by car presents connectivity challenges. We can all picture bored children in the backseat groaning in frustration as soon as their connection drops. Even though drivers aren’t on video calls or working on laptops, applications like GPS and fleet tracking — and eventually, fully autonomous vehicles — need wide area coverage, which isn’t always available.

There’s a clear need for connectivity improvements in Australia’s transportation systems. With the growing cost of building complex networks and budget stains, public transport operators must invest wisely to get the biggest return on their investment. That’s where a shared infrastructure provider comes in.

The benefits of shared infrastructure

A shared infrastructure provider builds multi-purpose networks that are carrier-agnostic, allowing multiple MNOs to share costs and capacity. This reduces the risks of bringing connectivity to more places across the country, making it a win for MNOs as well as public transport operators and their passengers.

Overall, the benefits of a shared infrastructure solution for MNOs, businesses and people across Australia include:

  • Improved coverage and capacity. The design and deployment of wireless networks optimised for coverage and capacity ensures travellers can access reliable, high-quality wireless services throughout their entire journey, whether for work, entertainment, or staying in contact with family and friends. For example, many people living in the Central Coast commute to Sydney for work, taking the train an hour or more to get to their jobs. With the right connectivity they can make better use of that time, working on reports, joining video calls and more, without worrying about losing connectivity when passing through a tunnel.
  • Cost savings. By sharing the infrastructure and services, multiple MNOs can save on the costs associated with designing, building and maintaining separate wireless networks. This can be particularly beneficial for small or mid-sized businesses that may not have the resources to invest in their own dedicated wireless networks.
  • Flexibility and scalability. Solutions that are both flexible and scalable can be tailored to the specific needs of different locations and users. This can include different levels of coverage and capacity, as well as support for different wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, private networks and 5G.
  • Improved user experience. Reliable and high-quality wireless services improve the overall user experience for mobile users, as well as improved customer engagement and loyalty for businesses that operate in in transport hubs and stations. And when travellers can trust in the quality of their connection, it can help boost ridership — a must for many operators after the declines caused by the pandemic. Approximately three-quarters of Sydneysiders say they’re more likely to use public transport if faster, more reliable connectivity was available, according to BAI’s connectivity outlook report. Advanced connectivity can also boost safety and security, enabling IoT sensors for crowd control (by identifying bottlenecks on platforms and at station exits/entrances), wireless CCTV cameras and help point intercoms.
  • Simplified management and maintenance. With a single point of contact for managing and maintaining wireless networks, the complexity and costs associated with managing multiple networks are reduced. Plus, IoT sensors powered by advanced connectivity make it possible to remotely monitor equipment and infrastructure to inform predictive and proactive maintenance. As Australia’s rail networks get older, being able to determine what needs to be replaced today — and what can last another decade — will be key.

The future of transportation connectivity

The right connectivity will also lay the foundation for a host of future applications. Imagine being able to walk onto a train without going through ticket gates and turnstiles. If you have a smart card on you, sensors will track where you get on, where you get off and how much you should be charged. This could even extend to seamless, multimodal journeys: getting on a train, then a bus, then an Uber, without needing to tap a machine even once. Just hop off one and into the other.

And that’s just one example. There are so many more applications that we haven’t even imagined yet. Once the network is there, people will get creative, and operators and travellers alike will reap the benefits.

BAI: A trusted partner for transportation

With a proven track record of major transportation projects, such as helping to modernise the 100-year-old subway infrastructure in London, BAI knows what’s needed to implement advanced connectivity in any transportation system. Public transport operators aren’t experts in connectivity and MNOs aren’t experts in transport — but BAI can bridge those two worlds, meeting the needs of all parties. We can also assist with funding, providing a full turn-key solution that comes with funding attached so taxpayers don’t bear the full burden of infrastructure upgrades.

At BAI, we offer the expertise and experience in building shared infrastructure that can help keep public transport users connected, wherever they are and wherever they go.