Chief Technology Officer and acting Chief Information Security Officer at NJ TRANSIT, the country’s largest public transit system.
We’ve heard a lot about the rollout of 5G, and while many folks have a general understanding of how it can broadly improve our lives, where 5G gets truly interesting is when we look at the power it provides through a focused lens — such as in the application of public transportation.
How can 5G improve a living system (such as public transit) that millions of users depend on each day? You’ll find two huge benefits: connectivity and productivity. Imagine a world with real-time transit tracking alerts — including delays or line redirects — and with zero loss of connectivity during transit. For many riders, undisrupted connectivity could translate to between one and three hours of additional productivity during their commute. For others, it could mean added security to never miss a stop, no matter how heavy their eyes may be.
Digital Transformations — In A Public System?
A true 5G revolution in public transit comes with a few unique challenges. It’s a living system with many people and businesses depending on it — which means interrupting service to make upgrades isn’t really an option.
On a practical level, making changes to an infrastructure build of this size is extremely complex and time-consuming. Public systems are much like icebergs, with large portions of their vital infrastructure hiding beneath the surface and with multiple layers of intradepartmental oversight that must be considered and coordinated. Gathering the data needed to uncover these layers and shepherd them toward an added common goal is the first step in implementing a digital transformation of this type.
In my work initiating a 5G rollout, I’ve found that the most significant concerns have focused on security. While a 5G-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) network would undeniably usher in a new era of convenience in transit, it would also create more access points for nefarious actors to capitalize on.
Anyone looking to modernize an existing public digital infrastructure system should seriously consider following the ISO 27001:2013 guidelines (as well as applying for the certification). Following the guidelines can keep your system secured to the highest international standards, and obtaining the certification can assure the public that every precaution is being taken with their information security. Providing this peace of mind is now more important than ever, as consumer doubt is at an all-time high regarding both government effectiveness and the validity of 5G systems.
Managing Human Relationships
Another element that is key to the successful implementation of a 5G-enabled public network is one you might be surprised by — human relationships. For many organizations, the most complex part of a digital transformation involves identifying stakeholders and building relationships with them. On a small scale, that means finding C-level champions within your organization to help you achieve your vision. On a larger scale, it means coordinating with private systems and ISP providers as well as with local and federal law enforcement agencies. Fostering these relationships over several years and individualizing incentive opportunities can be a challenging but ultimately worthwhile practice to help bring your project to fruition.
Prioritizing The Health Of Passengers And Economies
Once a mature, 5G-powered IoT network is in place, we will see real-time tracking and reporting for mass public transit lines for the very first time, which can enhance economic health. Shipping delays have a tangible impact on local and global economies, but real-time tracking and analysis will keep shipping reports accurate and dependable.
Beyond traditional transit applications, 5G can also benefit our physical health. For instance, it can enable the implementation of air sensors to monitor air quality in high-density areas. There’s also the incredibly timely application of train car load limits. As we look toward a post-Covid-19 reality, it will be helpful for riders to know which train cars have the fewest passengers or to monitor which car may be empty before it even pulls into the station.
I am certain that once the first 5G-enabled public transit system is rolled out, there will be a ripple effect of competition. Soon, 5G connectivity will be a standard expectation, and we’ll no longer be able to fathom losing a cellphone signal during our daily commute.
However, the truth is that we are at least five years away from the debut of the first 5G-enabled trains. The implementation moves slowly, as it is filled with an abundance of necessary cautio n— but the payoff, which will be clear in the improved quality of life for riders, is worth the work. We’re at the cusp of a major transportation revolution in this country. Are you ready?
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