Moovera makes muni and public transport Wi-Fi a lot easier

Today I spoke to Jim Baker, founder of Moovera, a UK company that makes outdoor and in-vehicle Wi-Fi access points for metro, campus and public transport deployments. Moovera’s APs bring Wi-Fi connectivity to end user devices and use 3G/UMTS, WiMAX and TD-CDMA for the backhaul. This solves a lot of interference problems and allows public transport operator to offer free Wi-Fi service to passengers, and at the same time, use the network for security purposes. Yesterday I spoke to Jim Baker, founder of Moovera, a UK company that makes outdoor and in-vehicle Wi-Fi access points for metro, campus and public transport deployments. Moovera’s APs bring Wi-Fi connectivity to end user devices but use 3G/UMTS, WiMAX and TD-CDMA for the backhaul. This solves a lot of interference problems. They have outdoor access points for metro and campus networks, but also in-vehicle APs for buses, trains and trams. Their two key public transport customers are the Stagecoach and National Express bus companies in the greater London area (click here for the case studies on these two bus operators).

Wi-Fi on buses in greater London

Stagecoach operates Oxford Tube, an express coach service between Oxford and Central London 24 hours a day. It is considered to be Europe’s most frequent express service. They offer free Wi-Fi access to passengers and the service is very popular. Here are some statistics showing use of the Wi-Fi network on the 25 coaches that ply the London to Oxford route:

(1) In the last nine months, 75,000 sessions by 15,000 unique users (shows some stickiness so the service is popular with recurring commuters). They have downloaded almost 400 gigabytes and uploaded 70 gigabytes. In the last seven days, almost 1,000 unique users have used the service 2,200 times.

(2) Average online time is 40 minutes (in a 90-minute journey). Average download is around 6MB during the session. The majority of passengers (over 70%) are commuters or students.

(3) The backhaul is Vodafone’s HSDPA service getting about 1.2 Mbps download speed to the vehicle. Backhaul cost is ¬¨¬£25/month per vehicle (around $50 per month). Vodafone will be upgrading its network to HSUPA in major UK metro areas from November 2007 with 7.2 Mbps service.

(See the total statistics for Wi-Fi use in Stagecoach buses at the end of this article)

Business model: demand aggregation

The key thing that makes this work is the cost of the backhaul: £25/month per vehicle. The cost of the Moovera access points is lower than that of many of its competitors (prices start at $1200).

Stagecoach is actually a demand aggregator for Vodafone’s 3G service. Because most people don’t have 3G cards in their laptops (or can’t afford or be bothered to use one), they won’t get Vodafone’s 3G service. But in reality they are using Vodafone’s service (although they don’t realize it) since their devices connect via Wi-Fi to the Moovera box, which then uses Vodafone to connect them to the Internet. Clever. This also allows people to avoid roaming charges if they don’t have a UK mobile subscription.

The cost of backhaul, equipment and maintenance are low enough so that Stagecoach, whose goal is to fill the buses with passengers, can offer free Wi-Fi. It’s an incentive for people to take the bus.

When WiMAX and 4G networks become more common, there will be even more competition on the backhaul service although people can continue to use Wi-Fi on their devices.

Again, until the end user devices come with WiMAX and 4G, they will connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi and use WiMAX or 4G for backhaul in those areas or circumstances where it’s not feasible or too expensive to use a fiber backhaul.

Very cool.

I point you to an article written by the CTO of Nortel Networks about 4G (click here). I don’t have time to write about all the implications here, but think about the model used by various European railway operators and cellular operators like SFR in France who themselves own 3G spectrum.

Why should every device connect to 3G, 4G or WiMAX? Why not, as Steve Stroh says, use Wi-Fi for the last 50 feet (15 meters)?

Public safety application: wireless camera

We know that some passengers just don’t behave properly on buses. Well, what makes the Wi-Fi / 3G network compelling for Stagecoach is that the cameras mounted on the buses for the drivers’ and passengers’ safety can stream images in “good enough quality” to a central office so that if a bus driver is being threatened, the office can see in real time what is happening and alert the police. This is very handy where the police do not know how many assailants are present, if they have weapons and the types of weapons they are carrying.

Unfortunately civility on public transport and in a lot of public spaces is declining every day, requiring the use of wireless surveillance cameras. For the bus operator (Stagecoach), this was a key application that provided even more incentive to deploy this network on their buses.

What about muni networks

Moovera has an outdoor access point that allows a network operator to use 3G, WiMAX and 4G (when it is deployed) as backhaul. This means an operator can use fewer APs and if there is 3G or WiMAX coverage in the entire area, then it can guarantee 100% coverage. Again, this works if most of the end users’ devices don’t have 3G or WiMAX functionality.

The main drawback with using 3G and WiMAX (versus fiber) is the bandwidth, but I will leave that for future article. As people use more bandwidth hungry applications, network operators will have to deal with that reality.

What inspired Jim to start Moovera

I’ve known Jim since the early days of Muniwireless (2003/2004). As founder of Telabria, he tried deploying several large Wi-Fi networks in the UK but discovered it was difficult to make the business model work. Part of his problem was that they were trying to do too many things at the same time (Telabria was also a mesh equipment vendor) and perhaps he was just too early.

Anyway, he’s got a lot of experience having been a wireless ISP. What inspired him to set up this new company is that when they were deploying Wi-Fi mesh networks, they encountered serious problems with interference (trees, buildings, etc.). He thinks in Europe, where cities are not set up on a grid like in the US (e.g. Mountain View), interference is a bigger problem. Hence, he started a company that sells APs using 3G and licensed WiMAX as backhaul.

I think that in Europe, where public transport authorities invest a lot of money in passenger services, Moovera’s equipment will sell more than in the US where people are stuck in cars. In addition, there’s more 3G and WiMAX being deployed in Europe than in the States.

What’s next: Jim says he would not be surprised to see 200 EUR portable Wi-Fi access points in vehicles perhaps as early as 2008, again using 3G and WiMAX for backhaul.

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Total WiFi stats for Stagecoach line:

Total (nine months)
Number of Sessions: 74397
Unique Users: 14486
Average Session Time: 00:39:44
Average Download: 5.34 MB
Average Upload: 956.96 KB
Total Download: 387.98 GB
Total Upload: 67.90 GB

Past 7 Days
Number of Sessions: 2151
Unique Users: 987
Average Session Time: 00:39:19
Average Download: 6.36 MB
Average Upload: 1016.36 KB
Total Download: 13.37 GB
Total Upload: 2.08 GB

This Month (September)
Number of Sessions: 4451
Unique Users: 1655
Average Session Time: 00:38:36
Average Download: 6.08 MB
Average Upload: 979.33 KB
Total Download: 26.41 GB
Total Upload: 4.16 GB

Previous Month (August)
Number of Sessions: 7580
Unique Users: 2382
Average Session Time: 00:37:41
Average Download: 5.30 MB
Average Upload: 932.18 KB
Total Download: 39.23 GB
Total Upload: 6.74 GB

Bear in mind that August is a holiday month so there were not as many students and commuters on the buses.

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I welcome your thoughts on this article. Please post in comments section below.

Comments

  1. Interesting stats.

    Moovera, however, is much more expensive than the most widely deployed competing cell router that’s designed for IT/fleet installation: Junxion. Junxion is used in Google and Microsoft shuttle buses, in King County (Seattle’s home count) Metro buses, sold in the 100s to corporations for road warrior workgroups, and costs $700 for one-off purchases, with discounted for volume.

    Moovera has a future mobile WiMax orientation, which is interesting, but their press release focused on fixed installation as a substitute for fixed WiMax or wired backhaul, I thought. The mobile cell router market is actually somewhat mature, with several competitors selling robust and rugged units. Mobile WiMax support sounds unique until you consider that it will be available as a plug-in PC Card, which means devices like Junxion’s would be able to add support for that standard by adding support for another card type to their existing list of card’s supported.

    Not that there’s not room for more firms, but this segment isn’t particularly underserved.

    What I’d ask Moovera is how they manage large installations? I’ve seen the management console for Junxion’s gear, and it’s quite sophisticated.

  2. One of Moovera’s key selling points is the management system which we market under the name Moovsuite. This incorporates device reporting and usage statistics gathering, an integrated AAA backend for user authentication, a captive portal for splash pages, end-user questionnaire for market research, and real-time vehicle tracking that uses the built-in GPS functionality of the device. You can learn more about this on our web site:

    http://www.moovera.com/s_overview.php?id=1&p=1

    While there are competing products on the market (some of which are less expensive), purchasing decisions are not made on price alone. From a technical perspective, the Moovbox supports two WAN radios that can be configured for failover or discrete assignment to Ethernet and Wi-Fi interfaces. This is particularly valuable should a customer wish to pass public Wi-Fi traffic over one WAN radio, and secure IP-CCTV traffic over another. It also enables the Moovbox to support both WiMAX 802.16e and 3G/HSPA simultaneously in the same device. The built-in GPS is used by over 90% of our customer base as for fleet management and by integrating GPS within the Moovbox itself we can offer tracking functionality and location-based services with any choice of backhaul whether WiMAX, TD-CDMA or 3G. I believe there are many potential customers who would value these competitive advantages despite costing a few hundred dollars more.

    Moovera sells its products through Channel Partners all over the world. While we encourage healthy competition, we have yet to encounter Junxion in any bids large or small in markets outside North America. It would appear they have a solid, reliable product and I congratulate them on their efforts in the US. However their web site states “Junxion products are not yet available for sale or use outside the United States” and has done so for a couple of years now. I’m not sure what Glenn means by ‘most widely deployed’ in relation to Junxion when they don’t sell outside the US. The world is a very big place with many carriers looking at ways to leverage their licensed spectrum into the Wi-Fi arena and Moovera is delighted to serve an ever-growing international market with our combination of both fixed and mobile products.

    I hope this addresses your questions Glenn and I’d be happy to answer any further questions either privately or via this forum.

    –jim