All aboard! France’s SNCF wants your cheeks on a seat – but not necessarily on a train.

With Olympics trade in mind, the French rail giant just launched a Paris-to-London coach service. Branded idBus, the service claims a four-star experience at a two-star price.

An odd move for a global leader in rail transport?

It’s actually an important object lesson in fighting OTT that telecom operators can learn from.

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  • LESSON 1 – If you can’t beat them, join them

This is OTT realpolitik: SNCF is fighting disruptive competition on many fronts. Low-cost airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair, Megabus and Eurolines coaches offer cut-price travel to students and other budget-conscious travellers. Sweeping changes in EU transport rules mean that various passenger and freight routes are now up for competition.

  • LESSON 2 –  Make it simple

No confusion marketing here: SNCF’s idBus prices are fixed with no hidden extras. Paris to London costs between Euro 49 to 65. Until the end of 2012, a third of seats on all idBus European routes will cost 5 Euros. SNCF thinks this will attract up to a quarter of a million passengers and 75% occupancy in 2012.

  • LESSON 3 – Focus on customer experience

It’s not cattle herding: The idBus fleet offers luxury coaches with generous legroom, wheelchair access and customers can choose their seats. Technology is a critical differentiator: Each bus offers totally free Wi-Fi with in-seat power sockets for connected devices (Eurostar won’t limp into the Wi-Fi era until 2013*). Customers get real-time information on their route since each coach is tracked via GPS.

  • LESSON 4 – Think outside of your box

Driving this initiative is a new recruit: Barbara Dalibard (pictured below, far right). Now boss of SNCF Voyages, she helmed Orange’s Euro 7.1  billion enterprise division Orange Business Services until 2010. She’s injected fresh ideas into the incumbent of a mature industry.

CONNECTED VERTICALS

Sound familiar? This kind of lateral thinking is exactly what the telecom industry needs to embrace.  As SNCF’s example underscores, telecom innovation can bring dynamism into adjacent industries – but telecom can also learn by interacting beyond its traditional borders. Understanding this is the real fast-track to success in OTT and Connected Verticals.

*Working with Bouygues Telecom, Orange and SFR, Alcatel-Lucent has just implemented technology for Eurotunnel to support mobile connectivity – but only in the Channel Tunnel.

For further discussion of these issues, the white paper: Connected Verticals: Opportunities in Transport and Energy is freely downloadable from Slideshare, along with other content from Informa’s Enterprise Verticals research and consultancy practice.

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