Onboard tech: Enhancing the ride

Are you elevating the rider experience with technology like free Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment? Or inadvertently turning what would have been a five-star service review into a one-star review?

The bus industry can have a reputation for being an old mode of transit. But onboard technology can go a long way toward changing those impressions.

Some companies opt out of offering onboard technology or Wi-Fi service. But Chris Riddell of United Bus Technology (UBT) believes this isn’t the right solution. “The genie is out of the bottle,” he said. Wi-Fi service and onboard entertainment have become “a universal standard on every other form of transportation, and we can’t just give up on it.”

As smartphones and other technology have permeated our daily lives, Wi-Fi connectivity has become almost a human rights issue. People seem to feel they need it to exist, and thanks to the airline industry and other ways we’ve become accustomed to a particular technology experience, it’s become an expectation among riders.

It may be possible to attract a new rider base with a consistent, reliable onboard technology experience. For example, business travelers rely on connectivity to get work done on the road, and fewer kids seem to be interested in learning to drive a car these days. (Why bother, when you’re able to connect with your friends constantly via the convenience of your handheld device?)

The key to both of these markets is Wi-Fi, and simply claiming to offer it isn’t enough if you’re not paying attention to the user experience.

Some bus operators may use devices meant for other applications rather than seeking purpose-built technology. Consumer portable Wi-Fi devices are designed for car travel – so parents can keep the kids entertained by letting them stream Netflix on a road trip. This solution will work well for a handful of people, but it’s not an effective solution for a bus.

The reason is bandwidth. Offering “free Wi-Fi” with a non-purpose-built solution has a number of risks, primarily ruining the bus rider experience for people who can’t stand waiting more than a few microseconds for a website to load. From the user perspective, it’s extremely frustrating to see that you’re connected to the Internet but it’s so slow as to be completely useless.

Rather than trying to retrofit technologies built for the airline industry or for home use, Riddell and UBT say that what’s needed is a device that 56 people can connect to, and provide each and every one of them a consistently high-quality user experience. And it offers onboard entertainment options including movies and TV shows, which are stored and streamed on the coach.

This technology already exists, and it’s very accessible and affordable. The NetBox Suite offered by UBT is an onboard entertainment solution purpose-built for the bus and motorcoach industry.

UBT’s system is designed to provide world-class technologies and create new profit centers for operators. There’s a built-in profit model that provides a plug-and-play way to sell onboard entertainment packages to riders.

Control technology costs and generate profit

The problem with using a device intended for personal use to provide Wi-Fi for motorcoach passengers is limited bandwidth. While that does mean that you’re less likely to have an astronomical bill for mobile data, you could turn riders into one-time-only customers. It’s possible for bus operators to generate significant revenue streams by offering goods and services that are completely unrelated to their core business of moving people from one place to another. The airlines have been spectacularly successful at this.

Because the NetBox Suite was designed from the ground up for the bus industry, UBT’s system makes financial sense from multiple perspectives. UBT negotiated directly with cellular and data carriers, and is able to offer rates to their own customers that, according to their website, are “simply too low to advertise.”

As Riddell puts it, “With our device, there’s a free version of the Wi-Fi that anyone can use when they get on the bus, and then there’s an upgraded infotainment package that offers a faster connection to the Internet” for people who need and want to pay for it.

The NetBox Suite

Offering Wi-Fi means that you are offering your passengers access to your data plan.  Without protections, this can mean trouble for reliability and passenger experience. Not only does the NetBox Suite level bandwidth consumption across the passengers who are using it to ensure a better user experience, it adds DataShield technology to take that one step further.

DataShield allows operators to block passenger access large data consumption sites such as video streaming, file transfers and cloud-based sync. These applications are the largest consumers of data and often are responsible for “bogging down” the system or blowing though data allotments. That can then reduce available data speeds and drive up data costs. This technology is helping reduce data consumption up to 80 percent while increasing passenger satisfaction.

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