Growing competition among train operators to increase passenger numbers and improve operational efficiency has highlighted the need for infotainment. Onboard Wi-Fi makes passengers' journey productive and entertaining by enabling them to work on the move.
It also enables train operators to gain a competitive edge, while encouraging a shift to rail from other modes of transport. Current trends indicate that business travellers are likely to favour trains over planes, if Wi-Fi connectivity is provided onboard.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Strategic Analysis of the European and North American Rail Infotainment Market, finds that penetration percent of rolling stocks with Wi-Fi in Europe is 3.9% and 8.4% in North America for 2011 and the onboard Wi-Fi penetration in Europe is expected grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.9 per cent between 2011 and 2021 and at 22 per cent in North America over the same time period. The United Kingdom and the United States have the highest number of rolling stocks deployed with Wi-Fi services in Europe and North America, respectively.
Even as onboard Wi-Fi dominates, the seat-back display segment is expected to witness very low or no further growth primarily due to its high installation cost, limited life span, and the domination of the 'Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)' model for accessing onboard Internet.
"Nearly 75 per cent of rail operators in Europe and over 90 per cent in North America currently offer free Wi-Fi services," notes Frost & Sullivan's Automotive & Transportation Senior Research Analyst Jagadeesh Chandran. "This trend is expected to gather further momentum as train operators look to improve customer service levels and increase operational efficiency."
A key concern at the moment, however, is limited bandwidth. Train operators offer Internet onboard by connecting to mobile services through a cellular tower. Such a setup is suitable for delivering moderate data connectivity rates for a minimum number of users.
This makes accessing high-speed Internet on personal multimedia devices in the rail environment a challenging task. It restricts passengers to using Wi-Fi for low-bandwidth activities like reading emails, chatting and social networking.
"Train operators are likely to start using IP architecture for onboard Internet access and for operational and safety services," states Chandran. "IP architecture encourages the adoption of a new generation of multimedia applications that are developed in IP environments."