Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times

Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times
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Netskrt Systems

Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times

This article first appeared in the Railway-News magazine Issue 2 2022.

The last few years are without parallel in British rail. A global pandemic, economic shutdown, rail traffic plummeting to levels not seen since the reign of Queen Victoria, and (yet again) a regulatory restructuring of the passenger rail ecosystem.

To say that these are uncertain times understates the magnitude of what has transpired. Fortunately, there are a few aspects of rail travel that have increased in certainty: passengers want internet connectivity and streaming video is the number one use for that connectivity.

The fact that internet connectivity is viewed by passengers as a necessary (and, ideally, free) service has been understood by UK rail operators for quite some time. The delivery of this service, however, has been imperfect at best. The most recent national rail passenger survey, conducted in early 2020 by Transport Focus, showed internet connectivity ranking dead last in terms of passenger satisfaction, well behind the cleanliness of toilet facilities and the availability of helpful staff. Strictly speaking, this is not the fault of train operators; they have had to rely on intermittent and limited-capacity cellular connections and, more importantly, streaming video threatens to swamp whatever capacity they make available.

The increasing dominance of streaming video (aka, internet video, OTT video) has been in the making for years but has been cemented by Covid-19. Prior to the onset of Covid-19, we were already well on our way towards the complete elimination of ‘linear TV’ (e.g. cable and satellite), in which someone else figures out what you want to watch and when you want to watch it, and moving toward streaming, in which the consumer makes those decisions. Given Covid’s stay-at-home strictures, consumption of streaming video has only accelerated. Passengers, having become accustomed to a streaming video banquet at home, obviously expect the same while travelling.

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