The trusty travel checklist of "passport, tickets, and toothbrush" may soon need revising. Increasingly, companies are doing away with paper or card-based tickets in favor of electronic versions you can carry around in your smartphone.
Mobile or ‘m-tickets' have caught on with many airlines and other transport providers, as well as among entertainment and hostelry companies such as cinema chains, concert organizers, and trade show administrators.
In many respects, the technology has parallels with the mobile cash systems being used in Africa and elsewhere. Its use is growing on the back of booming smartphone sales.
Smartphones now account for about half of all mobile phone sales in the United States, according to a study by Nielsen, the research firm, and in some European countries penetration of the devices could top 90 percent by 2017, eMarketer figures show.
Consequently, Juniper, the research organization, predicts 23 billion m-tickets a year will be delivered to mobile phones worldwide by 2016, from just 4 billion in 2011.
In a study last year, it found one in eight mobile users in Western Europe will be using their phone as a contactless metro card by 2016. "Mobile ticketing solves key problems for facility operators whether in the transport or events markets," says the analyst firm.
"The ability to sell and deliver tickets through the mobile channel without the need for extra staff or real estate has a significant impact on operator profitability, especially as user numbers are continually increasing and need to be supported with minimal investment."
One company joining the m-ticketing rush is Go Ahead, a major public transport provider in the United Kingdom. The business owns the Gatwick Express rail link that many visitors use to get into London from the city's second airport.
These visitors can use m-ticketing on the Gatwick Express, as well as on four Go Ahead bus networks around Britain. On the buses, says Go Ahead's group corporate affairs director Samantha Hodder: "It has proved popular as it is quick to implement and easy to use. From the experience so far, we have found it to be a very useful additional channel, which complements our existing smartcard scheme and offers an alternative to cash on the bus. Customers like it as it removes the barriers to travel."
Go Ahead customers are able to buy m-tickets after installing a special app on their phones. They can purchase the tickets at any time or place, which means they don't have to wait for a smartcard to arrive or queue in a shop to charge the card up.
Currently, Go Ahead's bus mobile tickets have to be shown to a driver, but the company is planning a move to barcode-based m-tickets that can be swiped over a reader without any need for drivers to get involved.
Another plus of m-ticketing is that it is relatively simple to launch from a technical point of view. The back-end systems required to issue and process m-tickets are not unduly complex, particularly with the advent of Borderless Networks.
Nevertheless, says Hodder, there are still a few niggles that need to be ironed out before m-ticketing can be used more widely, at least on railways in the United Kingdom. "In rail, m-ticketing requires quite a lot of front-of-house hardware," she says.
"As many rail stations are gated an additional barcode reader has to be installed, which can be costly to implement. There is an added difficulty in implementing single-use tickets as opposed to period passes, as these have to be marked as invalid once they have been used."
The British rail industry does not currently update its revenue systems in real time, Hodder explains, which means single-use tickets cannot be cancelled immediately after use.
This is not an insurmountable challenge, though, particularly as m-ticketing embraces near field communication (NFC) technology. "The advent of NFC will make m-ticketing more closely aligned to contactless smartcards," Hodder says.
"The NFC experience is basically akin to using your smartphone as if it were a smartcard."
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