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This is an SMS broker for tickets in Belgium.
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README.md

tip&skip

Project vision

First of all this is a proof of concept base approach to an SMS ticketing platform and or application. The proof of concept must show to which extent this project can be realised and if so the possibilities should be unveiled.

The main goal is to provide an platform where mobile payment services are offered. The platform should ease the process of acquiring such SMS tickets. Examples of such tickets are those provided by De Lijn, NMBS or 4411 parking tickets.

In general there are two thought processes; buying via one's mobile phone or buying for a phone from a computer at distance.

Buying from one's mobile phone (BfP)

When people buy SMS tickets they do this mostly because they lacked the time to buy a 'real' ticket in advance or just don't have the time anymore to buy one. Maybe the 'ticketeer' is short in cash but he decides to use the money on his phone instead, again probably just in time before he needs the ticket.

Therefore the main priority is speed and usability. Mostly no extra data is necessary to acquire such a ticket. A one-click does-it-all-approach should be envisioned.

Buying for a phone from a computer (BfC)

The purpose is somewhat different when buying an SMS-ticket from your computer which is to be sent to your phone. This will mostly be used when planning your trip beforehand. The 'ticketeer' would be able to avoid the hassle of buying a 'real' ticket.

Field of study

Decent research is needed in search of possible solutions to our two approaches. First off let's start exploring the different SMS tickets to be considered (at this moment).

De Lijn

These SMS tickets are valid on all buses and trams of De Lijn, except on De Lijn's night route in Antwerp.

Advantages of De Lijn SMS tickets:

  • An SMS ticket is cheaper than a ticket that you purchase from the driver.
  • You don't have payment problems (exact change no longer required).
  • Boarding goes smoother.
  • In the end buses and trams are more punctual.

To purchase a De Lijn SMS ticket you SMS an order code before boarding the vehicle to the phone number 4884. For an SMS ticket of 60 minutes that is ‘DL’ (€ 1.45); for an SMS ticket of 120 minutes ‘DL120’ (€ 2.25). After a few seconds you will receive a confirmation SMS and this counts as a ticket.

4411 parking tickets

4411 offers services in fifteen cities and communities with over 90,000 available parking spaces.

Advantages of 4411 SMS tickets:

  • No messing about which P&D machines you'll use.
  • You no longer have to estimate up-front how long you will be parking for.
  • With SMS-parking, you only pay for the time you actually parked.
  • No more hurrying and running when your parking time runs out.

4411 makes it possible to pay via phone for on street parking spots and for parking garages. On street SMS-parking is very easy. All you need to do is send a short text message to 4411 to start and stop the parking session. For a parking garage you just enter the parking and take a parking ticket, as usual. When leaving, you no longer have to queue up to pay. Simply send a text message with the parking code, a space and your ticket number to 4411.

After the first use, all further parking sessions will be invoiced via your mobile operator or via a separate parking invoice you will receive on a monthly basis. For the moment only Proximus customers can pay their parking fees via their mobile invoice or prepaid card. We expect Mobistar and Base to follow shortly. Until then Mobistar and Base customers can register on this web site. They will then receive a monthly invoice from Mobile-for.

Unfortunately in Ghent 4411 isn't active at the moment. There used to be an SMS service '3453' but there doesn't seem to be any trace of it anymore. Further investigation here would be nice and necessary, not only for Ghent but also for other cities who offer their own SMS parking ticket service.

NMBS

NMBS claims their SMS tickets should have following advantages:

  • Ease the process of acquiring a SMS ticket.
  • Be able to buy a ticket always and everywhere.
  • This by offering a simple follow-up.

After completing the process for the NMBS SMS tickets some of these supposed advantages aren't that apparent. The process requires too much user information that in the end shouldn't be necessary. Furthermore the tickets aren't really SMS tickets because customers have to pay for their ticket (which is then send to their phone) with either VISA or Mastercard.

When looking at this from the BfP-point of view these tickets are barely usable. It's too big of a hassle to buy these and u need card reader at hand to pay with ur VISA or Mastercard.

Although probably not usable for BfP, these could be used for BfC. The risk of loosing or forgetting the ticket is lowered as u have your ticket on your phone. Route planning software (e.g. Scotty) could integrate these kind of tickets to offer even more added value.

Wireframe BfP

Too have a visual goal through this project it's recommended to create a (website) wireframe.

You can check my initial wireframe here. I want to stress again that this is just a prototypish wireframe of the BfC point of view. Technologies used are HTML5 with special focus on responsive design. Twitter Bootstrap was used to enable this responsive design.

I used this wireframe to get a visual image of what could be. Especially the flow of the application. Furthermore it allows me to test some features like leaflet for maps.

Prototype

BfP

I then started consolidating the wireframe. As native features would be needed (SMS-composing, -sending, -receiving) and I still wanted to use HTML5 due to it's ease it was clear that Cordova was the way to go (formely known as Phonegap).

To create a harmonised application I needed to switch from Twitter Bootstrap to jQuery Mobile (for CSS and page navigation) which works alot better with Cordova.

BfC

Next up buying from you're computer for your phone. The SMS should always be sent from you're phone. Reasons for this: this prevents the need of an SMS gateway of your own, the SMS is always charged to the customer's bill and you use the existing infrastructure off the SMS tickets.

The BfC approach therefore should push a 'ticket' to the phone. The tip-skip application (which is running at that moment on the phone) would then receive this push 'ticket'. The SMS function would be triggered (after confirmation by the user). and the customer would have his ticket at hand!

I found a very good and wide spread technology to provide this push functionality: PubNub. Ideally to use in this proof of concept. Whether you are pushing to a mobile device, web app, desktop, or server, PubNub is a one stop shop. They provide easy to use API's for JavaScript, iOS, Android, Python, Java, Ruby, Flash, Silverlight, etc. Furthermore it is cloud-hosted for a redundant architecture providing high-availability and reliability.

PubNub is based on the standard HTTP 1.1 protocol. PubNub uses a BOSH model with JSON rather than XML. BOSH is a long polling alternative to TCP, used when TCP is difficult or impossible (e.g. in a web browser).

BfP + BfC

Putting it all together I made a working application for the De Lijn SMS tickets where it is possible to push a ticket from your computer to your phone or buy it directly via your phone.

Because I do want people to see what my prototype looks like (but I can't obviously do this on the phone) I ported the application back to a website-ish application. The application which ran on the Windows Phone is called the receiver and is ported to a website. Whereas on the other end you have the sender (which is actually a normal website or a widget).

First off you can buy from the receiver (thus the phone). On the phone this will trigger the SMS application and create the necessary message and recipients ready to sent. Next you can use the sender (the website or widget) to push a notice which will then trigger in turn the SMS application. This provides a simple prototype which show how it should be possible to build an interoperable BfP and BfC application.

Problems

Even with this prototype I encountered some problems mainly because I was developing on Windows Phone. First off it isn't possible to access the SMS inbox at the moment. So it is impossible to use the real SMS verification of your ticket in the application.

Next to this I faced some trouble saving your current tickets. Normally I use localStorage but for some obscure reason this didn't work on my phone.

Future work

  • Authentication and security; but using PubNub it would be fairly easy as they provide authenticated and secured 1v1 connections.
  • Access to the response of an SMS ticket by accessing the SMS inbox.
  • Go from prototype to an higher level of application.

Conclusions

Let's jump into conclusions, keeping possibilities for Go-Mobile in mind.

General

An application for you're phone on top of SMS tickets significantly increases the value added. During the research and work this was stressed several times. There are already sprouting several applications whom try to do this. Some succeed very well like SMS Park, which combines parking and De Lijn SMS tickets. There are several advantages:

  • You don't forget numbers or what needs to be inside the message.
  • It provides an easy way to populate the ticket with the necessary data.
  • A history is available of you're payed tickets (highly valuable for tracking you're travelling expenses).

NMBS

This is a very interesting opportunity for Go-Mobile. At the moment the NMBS SMS tickets (which are to be paid for by Mastercard or Visa) aren't useful at all. But suppose they would change to real SMS tickets (just sending an SMS and paying with your phone bill).

Suppose you add this functionality in a widget on a site concerning mobility (suppose Scotty or iRail). form. You can directly offer a ticket service for the relevant service. The user's wouldn't have to print their ticket but would receive on their phone where the application is running and they verify their purchase.

But there is more. Services could be offered. With this application you know which route the customer is going to follow. Therefore relevant information can be offered, adding even more value. You could add information about on which platform the customer should board, what delays he will have and more specific information, which the customer shouldn't search for himself anymore. The information is brought to the customer and this is what they want.

I think a serious business model can be worked out here!

De Lijn

What I've learned here is that SMS tickets can be really simple and solid. These tickets don't need unnecessary information, are fast and can be relied on. Due to this fact an application on top of this just simplifies the process even more although not much value can be added as they are already that simple.

Parking

Very interesting (Although maybe less important for Go-Mobile?) especially because SMS Park has made a full blown iOS application for this. I used this application and as thought, it provides some very nice features.

  • Your location could be used to make it even more enjoyable (like checking which parking meter you are at automatically).
  • Usage of timers.
  • A car tracking system.
  • License plate management.

In the end

In the end I'm fairly convinced there is more to the SMS ticket than there is currently available. Certainly for the SMS tickets where extra services could be offered there could be a new approach of delivering only very specific information with these tickets.

I do think 3 weeks was fairly short to provide even a proof of concept but it was enough to draw some conclusions. Also most of the possibilities lie with NMBS SMS tickets. Unfortunatly these aren't currently suitable for a decent application. If these would a very nice opportunity would arise.

For more questions on this subject please do mail me: dimitri at irail.be.

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