LTE Powers New Possibilities in Transportation and Fleet Management
Cellular M2M (machine-to-machine) communications have played an important role in the transportation sector for several years. The first generation of wireless fleet management and mobile office solutions unlocked amazing new capabilities for users. For the first time, fleet managers could track the health and status of their vehicles in realtime, across vast geographic distances. For users who spent much of their day working from a vehicle (such as police officers, utility workers, waste-management personnel, etc.), wireless connectivity offered the possibility of a true “mobile office,” extending useful business applications wherever users needed them.
While these capabilities were revolutionary just a few years ago, in today’s hyper-connected business environment, they seem almost routine. Get ready for the next wave of amazing wireless transportation and fleet-management innovations. With huge increases in bandwidth and performance over previous-generation technologies, 4G LTE cellular services open up a world of new possibilities for M2M transportation applications.
Many public and private transit systems have been using cellular M2M technology to stay connected with vehicles, especially buses. In the past, this usually meant tracking each vehicle’s realtime location to provide more accurate arrival times for waiting passengers, and collecting onboard diagnostics information to proactively identify mechanical issues with the vehicle. Both of these applications will still play a central role in M2M solutions for buses and other transit vehicles. However, by upgrading mobile M2M terminals on these vehicles with LTE connectivity, there are suddenly many more possibilities.
New transit application options include:
- Mobile hotspots: With data speeds up to 100 times greater than previous-generation cellular technology, LTE-equipped buses can not only support internal M2M applications, they can offer high-speed Internet connectivity to their passengers. Operators can offer complimentary broadband service to boost customer satisfaction or to create a new revenue stream by charging customers for access. In either case, a single LTE gateway can provide all the capacity operators need to extend these new services to customers, and the security to ensure these offerings do not affect vital fleet-management applications.
- Digital advertising: Many bus and train systems already post advertisements throughout passenger areas. With LTE, they can provide much more dynamic and lucrative ads using digital signs. LTE-connected digital signs give advertisers the ability to incorporate high-definition video and audio into their ads, as well as the ability to update information remotely. They also offer the opportunity for new advertising models, such as location-based advertising that incorporates GPS functionality, and serves ads for nearby businesses based on the vehicle’s’ location at a given moment. As a result, transit operators can charge higher advertising rates. They can also bring in many more advertisers, since a single digital sign can support dozens of rotating ads.
Advanced Mobile Offices
New 4G LTE technologies are also poised to transform mobile office applications for law enforcement officers, field maintenance workers, and any other user who needs to connect with backend applications from a vehicle. Whether querying a fingerprint or mug shot database, filling out an online report, or connecting wireless printers and cameras in a mobile vehicle network, LTE provides a major boost in throughput and performance. But, next-generation LTE-powered mobile offices can also support new applications, especially those involving video.
Consider a police officer recording video of a traffic stop with an in-vehicle camera. Today, that video footage is typically stored on an in-vehicle DVR, and can only be used to analyze the events being recorded long after the fact. With a high-speed LTE connection, police dispatchers could monitor police vehicle cameras in realtime from police headquarters. If a seemingly minor traffic stop became a more serious incident, dispatchers could recognize there was a problem right away and dispatch assistance immediately, without even waiting for a request from the officer on the scene.
The same high-speed vehicle connection can support in-bound video traffic as well. For example, officers rushing to a crime scene (or first responders racing to a fire or other emergency) could stream live feeds from public or police surveillance cameras to their vehicles, and maintain a realtime picture of what’s happening on the scene as they are en route. These kinds of capabilities can help police, fire, and other emergency personnel stay safer and perform their jobs more effectively. And, they are only possible with high-speed 4G connectivity.
Implementing 4G LTE
Clearly, these are exciting times for people relying on mobile office and fleet-management applications, as well as the developers and device manufacturers building solutions to support them. However, while LTE offers amazing new possibilities, it also poses some unique challenges. These include:
- Evolving coverage: MNOs (mobile network operators) worldwide are rapidly deploying LTE networks, but the technology is still new. For the foreseeable future, most LTE gateways will have to be multi-mode solutions that can connect using 3G or even 2G networks in areas where LTE is not available.
- Complex handoffs: Along the same lines, 4G LTE gateways need to support graceful, seamless handoffs from one cellular radio to another, and provide the intelligence to identify the best possible connection at all times.
- Diverse LTE implementations and frequencies: In addition to multi-mode capabilities, LTE gateways will also need to support multiple frequencies, as MNOs are deploying LTE in a broad range of frequency bands and channel bandwidths. Each additional frequency adds more complexity to the LTE gateway design. This is an especially important consideration for device manufacturers designing solutions that will operate in multiple countries and markets.
- Need for well-designed antennas: Each wireless frequency requires a unique antenna configuration, so a solution that will support multiple frequencies presents a significant engineering challenge.
To address these challenges and capitalize on new LTE capabilities, transportation companies and solution developers should look for LTE solutions from technology partners with a proven track record of successfully implementing complex multi-mode, multi-frequency designs. They should also seek partners with close, longstanding relationships with MNOs, which can recommend the best combination of modes and frequencies for any market, and help accelerate carrier testing and certification.
In the devices themselves, solution developers and end-customers should seek solutions with rugged designs, capable of withstanding the constant vibration, dust, and other harsh environmental factors associated with in-vehicle applications. LTE gateways should also be designed for easy integration with third-party equipment and applications, and simple remote setup and deployment. Users should be able to manage the entire deployment—including cellular subscriptions, connected devices, and even the fleet management and mobile