BY Yoran Doodai, VP Business Development & Product Marketing
RCR Wireless | Opinion, Reader Forum (Jan 18, 2016)

Operators are exploring new ways to monetize the growth in data traffic to offset falling revenues. Slowing subscriber numbers, as well as competitive and regulatory pressures, have led to a lower forecasted compound annual growth rate of only 3.1% per year for the next five years, down from 4% between 2008 and 2014.
Many operators are focusing on premium fast track services leveraging new “4G” networks. The Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast found tiered plans now represent more than half of all offers, up from only 4% three years ago.

Commuters deserve focus of mobile carriers

Commuters can be a viable market segment that can provide operators with brand differentiation and even new revenue opportunities. Today, commuters are taking advantage of greater connectivity and new apps to enrich their daily commute, relying on their mobile phones for work, entertainment and shopping.
Growth in commuter commerce

As the number of subscribers who shop while commuting increases, operators have more incentive to ensure they have a smooth ride on their networks.

More than one-in-10 (14%) mobile connected commuters engage in commuter commerce, according to an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of PayPal. U.K. shoppers planned their morning commute and office lunch breaks for Christmas shopping this year with four in 10 using mobile phones for holiday purchases. The 14% of Canadians who engage in “commuter commerce” on buses, streetcars and commuter trains are spending an average of $529 per month on goods and services, and this figure is expected to rise.

When commuters aren’t shopping, they are relying on mobile communications for a variety of other services. According to the PayPal research, when commuters aren’t researching things to buy (19%), they are texting (67%), checking social media sites (44%), talking on their phone (44%), streaming/listening to music (44%), playing online/app games (41%), reading the news (38%), taking pictures or video (20%), watching TV/videos (17%) or doing something else (7%).

What is clear is that commuters perceive connectivity to be a basic requirement and they demand uninterrupted service while they travel to and from work.

Hiccups along the way

Dropped calls and intermittent access to the Internet are frustrations felt by many passengers. One-in-three mobile browsing sessions and one-in-seven voice calls made on commuter trains fails according to a study by mobile analysis firm Global Wireless Solutions.

The research firm RootMetrics, reported London had poor connectivity receiving just the fifth best mobile service in the U.K. Overall, St. Pancras station fared the worst with engineers experiencing an average of 99 voice and packet data failures across the four major operators during testing.

Poor connectivity can be caused by physical barriers and the fact masts are typically positioned in a way that will serve the most customers, which doesn’t always correlate with the location of rail lines; especially those that run through open rural areas.

Beefing up commuter lines

Companies are already getting on board with specialized services for commuters.
Speedify lets commuters combine Wi-Fi, 3G/4G,and wired networks to create one faster super-connection after demonstrating that both Amtrak Wi-Fi and Verizon Wireless LTE hot spot services result in several lines dropped along the way. SK Telecom in Korea analyzed its daily usage traffic and identified a profitable customer niche. It began by offering unlimited high-speed LTE coverage to commuters who spend an average of 55 minutes traveling to work each day. Today, SK Telecom’s Unlimited Data Option for Commuters offers a high-speed boost from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at a fixed monthly rate.

Commuters are avid users of mobile networks and demand fast and seamless service. Operators who are able to tweak their networks to be more customer-centric to focus on commuters will benefit from loyal subscribers. When a technology is used to optimize around their routes, commuters can be a viable market segment that can provide operators with brand differentiation and even possibly new revenues.