Information stations

Doing business is in transport terminals can be as much about renewal and replacement as it is about gleaming new buildings. InAVate talks to the market to get a sense of the state of this key vertical for the AV industry.

As any regular user of public transport will tell you, the most frustrating experience aside from experiencing a delay or cancellation is the absence of concrete information about what’s going on or when you might be able to travel.
The UK’s recent aviation security scare had knock on effects at major air terminals around the EMEA region as flights were delayed, suspended or simply cancelled. Reports on TV and news web sites carried images of queues of passengers staring meerkat-like at flight information screens searching for news of their flight. In a time where such occurrences are becoming more common, information is king.

Several other drivers are combining with the ever-increasing demand for information from passengers to provide the ingredients for a very healthy market for audio visual solutions in transport terminals.

The need for heightened security, legislative issues such as various national disabled access laws and the new EN54 Standard for Voice Alarm systems are all in the mix. These often require upgrades to or complete replacement of existing equipment and often account for more business than installations in completely new stations or airport terminals.

One company involved in both refurbishment and new work is Windsor Voice Services. The company works almost exclusively for British Airways and Partner and Contract Manager Malcolm Smith commented on his work for the Airline: “Our primary business is voice telephony and other voice communications so that’s telephones, intercoms and public address. Basically we work on anything to do with voice for the airline, world wide.”

Smith is hopeful that Windsor will pick up the contract for BA’s new lounges at Heathrow Terminal 5, some 5000 square feet of lounge space are planned and due for completion in April 2008. However, even if they don’t pick up the installation contract he isn’t worried: “It may be that the installation project goes else where with a maintenance contract as well, but when that runs out we’ll probably pick it up. Install is a one off thing, but maintenance is on going. It’s potentially much greater business.”

Refit is another source of income. BA’s lounges have life spans of around five to six years before they get a face-lift, often equipment can be re-used but the work still needs doing. Malcolm concludes: “We’re very busy. I’ve been working here since 1985 and I’ve never known it not to be this busy.”

Another company doing well out of the refit and renewal trade is TG Baker Sound, the UK based operation charged with running projects for Network Rail. Network rail is responsible for the UK’s railway network including its 2622 mainline stations. Brian Andrew is transport manager for the company: “Right now we have three or four major projects running for Network Rail, we’ve designed complete system for these. For example an automated time table announcer and a bespoke induction loop system. We’re working on seventeen stations on the West Coast mainline, there’s lots going on. There’s a rolling programme of replacement, which we’re doing. It’s supposed to be like for like, but we improve upon what has gone before in every case, replacing things like old horn technologies with modern speakers. The Strategic Rail Authority [the government agency responsible for administering the rail network in the UK] has very strict guidelines that have to be installed now under the Disability Discrimination Act. Those are our own design, they’re wall mounted at ‘points of information’.”

Points of information are a recurring theme when talking to people in the transport market. Klaus Schiffer, Sales Manager Transport Solutions & Information of display manufacturer Concrac said: “The main application of our screens is always primarily passenger information. Sometimes when they are located in shops there maybe some advertising messages but the main use is information.”

He too is content with the state of the market: “It’s a growing market due to increased demand from operators for passenger information systems. People are wanting to lead the passenger through a journey. Technology is being used to help people travel with confidence. At the moment it’s about a fifty-fifty split between new systems and upgrades. Sometimes when a facility is extended and the new portion is equipped with up-to-date technology the rest of the site has to be upgraded to be compatible. The countries with the most projects at the moment are Denmark, Austria and Belgium.”

Dutch integrator Hecla has recently identified the transport market as somewhere they want to be involved in, particularly information systems. Sales and Marketing Manager Jos Den Hartog explained what proportion of his business is now in this sector: “It is growing very fast. Basically the new business areas we are looking at are in the transport and outdoor environments. If I had to put a figure on it I’d say that its about 20% of our business now.” Following successful collaboration with various cities and also Viacom Outdoor Den Hartog is optimistic about future opportunities. It’s not just the company’s video systems side that’s benefiting from a healthy transport market.

“Our audio group is also involved in the transport market now because there are some new directives regarding speech intelligibility, this is a key driver for the need for new audio systems. Information systems at stations are also having to cater for people with disabilities.”

Display manufacturers Hantarex are particularly well represented in the transport market, making durable and vandal resistant products in both the LCD and plasma field. Distributor Dena Euro has done sterling work for the company, particularly in Iran, as Director Bijan Khatir remarked: “We have operated in the transportation market in the Middle East, particularly in Iran for about three years. Our partner out there, O R Dena is a major security and AV installer. We recently supplied a large shipment of Hantarex 32” monitors for use in CCTV control rooms at a new airport.

“The Iranian government has plenty of money to invest in infrastructure projects due to the continuing trade embargo’s and the increasing oil prices.”

Whilst in some areas such as display technologies and signage the transport market seems ready to adopt new technologies, in others it’s still very conservative. Audio specialists Prodytel has been pushing its S-Cluster product for a couple of years but still find the market resistant to using TCP/IP technology for voice alarm purposes.

The company’s Tanja Amon said: “My impression of the transport market is that they are still a little bit afraid of using TCP/IP technology for audio and video signals. We’ve had discussion with people who agree it is the future, but they are not quite yet ready to adopt our technology.

“Right now there are not so many new transport projects in the market, which limits our options in projects. Much of the work is refitting or renewal of existing infrastructure, which makes it hard to introduce a completely new technology.”

Bosch are in an almost uniquely strong position when it comes to supplying the transport market with turnkey solutions. The company’s Lars Van den Heuvel explained how they approach partnering with integrators: “We run a certified partner program. The partner companies are trained to design, install and commission security systems. Depending on the size of the project our partners might make use of subcontractors.”

Van den Heuvel sees the key driver for the future of the market being transport terminal owners wishing to move towards digital solutions.

A mixture of new works and renovation seems to characterise the transport market in the region at the moment. The best prospects for doing business derive from coming up with innovative ideas for implementing technologies, which serve the needs of the travelling public, and from improving upon the systems already in place.
Sites such as railway stations and airports see unprecedented volumes of people passing through them each year and it’s a challenge for owners and operators to cope with this. Travellers these days expect to be better informed and more secure than ever and AV technology companies who can provide solutions are well placed to prosper.

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