Mervyn Byleveldt, Solutions Sales Manager Africa at Cradlepoint, provides guidance and advice for transport operators and fleet owners on procuring, installing and managing in-vehicle networks
The growing adoption of fast, reliable connectivity has the potential to transform South Africa’s public transport industry—everything from buses and taxis, to trains and rapid transit services. With around 70 per cent of the population dependent on public transport for their mobility needs, the commercial opportunities arising from embracing this trend are significant.
Indeed, as connected cars go mainstream and companies like Uber eliminate the hassle of cash payments for passengers, digital disruption is set to play a major role in transforming the country’s transport sector.
Always-available Internet connectivity can generate new value-added services, streamline work processes, improve productivity and fleet security, and give staff on-the-road access to essential real-time information. Alongside improved operational and asset management capabilities, operators can revolutionise their delivery of consumer-facing services—such as ticketing and timetable or service updates.
But transportation presents some unique connectivity challenges not found in traditional environments. Travelling along bumpy roads, traversing service areas, and powering devices using a vehicle battery are just some of the issues that require special consideration and planning.
Evaluating the opportunities
With dependable in-vehicle connectivity in place, you can use on-board telematics to transform your maintenance schedule and keep vehicles on the road for longer, monitor fleet movements in real-time, deploy digital signage, and use video-streaming for real-time security surveillance.
Now it becomes possible to monitor stops, use geo-location to identify unnecessary trips and mileage or service delays, and recognise safe drivers. Utilising advanced bi-directional messaging you can enable smart navigation for drivers, updating them on route changes due to heavy traffic or unexpected incidents, or deliver next stop automated vehicle announcements with predicted arrival times that transform the customer experience.
Many of South Africa’s consumers are tech savvy and digitally connected; nine-in-10 adults now own a mobile device, more than half of which are smartphones. Providing free on-board WiFi offers a host of opportunities for increasing revenues. Everything from driving up ridership numbers, to providing passengers with a captive portal that delivers public service information, timetables, promotions and online advertising.
The analytics harvested from these on-board passenger WiFi interactions can inform ad-pricing, enable the delivery of personalised promotions, and make it possible for operators to pinpoint how many passengers board their vehicles at specific times. Using this data, operators can map out travel patterns or identify where potential new services targeting underserved areas or time slots could prove profitable.
However, determining which mobile connectivity solution best fits your organisation’s needs requires careful evaluation of a number of factors.
Going beyond simple connectivity
Transport operators deploy network connectivity in fleet vehicles for a variety of business functions. This means decision-makers will need to think strategically when deploying a mobile connectivity solution, ensuring the network they deploy integrates seamlessly with existing infrastructure and systems. Doing so will ensure it’s possible to achieve full control, visibility and security of the branch network on the road.
For optimal operation, wireless routers require regular software and firmware updates, configuration, maintenance and troubleshooting. But many organisations can’t afford to dock their fleet several times a week to install updates, fix issues or transmit data.
The answer to this challenge is to deploy a software-defined cloud-based remote management platform that enables automatic firmware updates, configurations, security patches, and the maintenance of wireless devices from a remote location—while ensuring sensitive data always stays safe.
Since mobile routers on a cellular network use dynamic private IP addresses, fleet managers will need a management platform that does not require a static IP to connect to the route. To maintain reliable connectivity, the router and antenna will need to be correctly placed and the use of ruggedized routers will be key.
Similarly, the number of devices needed to best serve passengers will need to be calculated on anticipated usage.
Assuring network security
Many organisations use virtual private networks (VPNs) to give mobile employees access to important data and applications housed in the data centre. However, for fleet employees, connecting to a VPN can be a time-consuming and frustrating proposition if the vehicle needs to reconnect every time the LTE signal temporarily drops. Instead, consider deploying a software-defined virtual overlay network that can function as a local area network (LAN)—keeping vehicles authorised on the network even if the LTE signal is interrupted.
When it comes to offering passengers public WiFi services, implementing a parallel network or physically air-gapped network will deliver maximum network security. This will stop hackers from gaining access to sensitive applications within in-vehicle networks by pivoting from other areas, such as the guest WiFi or digital signage.
Towards a more connected future
The fast paced urbanisation of South Africa represents a major incentive for initiating smart transport and mobility solutions. According to the World Bank, 66 per cent of the population now live in metropolitan hubs – a number that is set to increase rapidly. In-vehicle digital connectivity represents an opportunity to deliver services more efficiently and with greater automation, transforming the service relationship with customers in way that incentivises more consumers to utilise public transport services.
Today’s 4G LTE networking solutions represent the most reliable, secure and cost-effective means of ensuring always-on connectivity for vehicles. Simple to implement and manage, a full solution should include cloud management, network security, and be purpose built for harsh on-road conditions like vibration and splash. This gives operators the ideal framework for managing vehicle, people and device connectivity, while ensuring control and security on the road.