In August 2017, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan told business leaders of his vision to ensure that “...every household and every business in London should have access to a superfast internet connection, and that free public connectivity should be a feature of our high streets and public spaces.”
Although the UK capital is one of the world’s leading technology hubs, boasting over 40,000 digital tech from start-ups to industry giants like Amazon and Google, Londoners are still experiencing poor connectivity whilst on the move and in particular on the city’s vast public transport network. One company has however solved this problem for the citizens of New York, Hong Kong and Toronto – where riders on those cities metro networks can remain connected throughout their journey whether answering emails, reading the news or communicating with friends and family.
That company is BAI Communications, and today to learn more about their unique business model, current focus and thoughts on the sector’s developments our Editor Luke Upton sat down exclusively with Billy D’Arcy, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of BAI Communications UK.
Luke Upton (LU): Congratulations on the new position, what has led you to the role?
Billy D’Arcy (BD’A): Thank you. Well I’ve always been very interested in all aspects of telecommunications, and have worked in the sector for over 25 years now, first in my native Ireland and since 2009 in the UK. I enjoy working on projects within regulated markets, public sector style environments and particularly in areas where I can see growth. Throughout my career, I’ve had a particular fascination for infrastructure. Quite simply, without the strong foundations of quality infrastructure, you can’t deliver the services you may want to deploy to help address customers outcomes. So, in joining BAI Communications in July from O2 (Telefónica UK) where I was Managing Director for Enterprise & Public Sector Business, I got the opportunity to focus on these areas and join an organisation that is particularly good in demonstrating engineering infrastructure excellence and delivering major projects. I believe in what BAI are about, I’m inspired by the team here and we are all driven by the same ambition to build the business and the value of what we offer.
LU: Thanks, and for our readers who may be unfamiliar with BAI Communications’ work, could you give them a brief overview?
BD’A: Of course, BAI Communications ( @BAIComms ) is a global company that builds and operates highly available communications networks – cellular, Wi-Fi, broadcast and radio – across sectors challenged with connectivity.
We deliver the infrastructure and ensure availability of the services to metro passengers in cities like New York, Toronto and Hong Kong. Why do we do this? Well, mobile phones are effectively the remote control for someone’s life. So why have that interrupted when you are underground or at station? We at BAI don’t think you should. For most people, their mobile phone is rarely out of arm’s reach. You never turn it off. It’s the most converged device people have. Think about alarm clocks, everyone used to have one. And now? It is on your phone. Your bank is there. What you want to watch is there. What you want to read. Your photographs. It’s all there. So having something that can give you real time information through your journey, even whilst underground in tunnels we think is very, very important.
(Read more about BAI Communications' work in New York here: Gaining the trust and building the models to deliver unprecedented connectivity to passengers. )
LU: And when this connectivity is made available, how do passengers use it?
BD’A: Mobile devices are now used predominantly for data. So exceptional cellular coverage and Wi-Fi is very important. People expect this data connectivity, whether for texting, browsing or streaming. It’s a given. Many years ago you will have had to subscribe to it, few will do this now. People will not pay for something they think they should have for free. But voice is still important, let me give you an example – imagine a sole trader or small business person using the metro – they may get a call from a potential customer. If they miss it, they miss the business. So by keeping them connected we are helping support their business.
LU: The benefits for passengers are clear, but building a network that delivers this is an expensive challenge. How do you overcome this?
BD’A: We offer a unique solution to this, as we have the technological capability but also the financial stability to take on the cost and the risk of the build. To use New York as an example, through Transit Wireless, a BAI majority-owned company, we’ve invested USD$300m over five years to build the entire network at no cost to the MTA or the tax payer. Other alternative funding approaches are also available to transport authorities, such as revenue shares or licence fees to support investments.
Whilst we also offer an attractive proposition for mobile network operators. If you look at their model as it stands today, they are in a race to keep up with technology. We’ve come out of 3G and moved into 4G and people are already talking 5G and as soon as that starts people will be talking about 6G! Building out a network if you are a mobile operator is exceptionally expensive and I believe that at this point in time mobile network operators are not as precious about owning that infrastructure as they would have been in years gone by. They are instead obsessed with customer service, satisfaction and retention. So they want a network that delivers this, but not necessarily one they’ve built themselves. We can build this network and they come and use it at a much reduced cost of what they would have had to spend building it themselves for their own customer segments usage.
LU: But securing projects like this aren’t only about finance are they?
BD’A: Certainly not. Trust is key. We take a long term view, we are patient investors, BAI is not just in it for the short term. We have proved that we are able to intervene in programs that were failing and deliver them successfully. And this goes a long way in building trust. It gives us exceptional referenceability to those looking to see who they can trust to make an investment with.
This trust is supported by our position as true neutral hosts. We spend a lot of time understanding the customer. What do they actually want? What are their pain points? From these assessments we build our partnership. For example with MTA in New York and TTC in Canada.
And to put it simply, we are very good at the engineering aspect of major projects. Large scale programmes such as this tend to have a tendency to overrun, not get delivered and to fail. But if look at BAI there is not a single example of where this has happened in our history. In fact there are numerous examples of achieving delivery ahead of time. In New York, Transit Wireless was two years ahead of schedule.
(Discover what was made possible when Transit Wireless, a BAI Communications majority-owned company, enabled high speed Wi-Fi in the NYC subway - (credits: Chris Shimojima, Film maker)
LU: You’ve mentioned 5G, with your commitments with transport authorities spanning for 20+ years, how do you ensure your platforms keep pace with developments?
BD’A: This is always in our thinking. We need an eye on the future when we are planning for today. So whatever we put in today needs to be scalable and adaptable. And when we take this long term approach we are allowing for innovation to be built in. Innovation is critically important. These are long term contracts that we put in place and we want to continue to deliver innovation within these contracts and for BAI remain relevant.
So from that point of view, it’s almost like taking a hackathon perspective, and looking at applications that could become relevant for a passenger in the future, and how they can be layered on top of the existing infrastructure as easily as possible. I would even propose saying to a transport authority, we’d like to create a Joint Innovation Board where people from our respective organisations get together on a regular basis to examine what else we need to be doing to improve our offering.
And I always urge an innovative approach to be taken along the supply chain, with every one of our partners. And to reference your question, I see 5G very much about the internet of things, machine2machine. Whether that’s smart car, smart city, smart road, smart rail all of these things converging and this is where 5G comes together. So that is something we have to be prepared for, within this next decade.
LU: Thanks, and so the Mayor of London’s public support of full connectivity being rolled is something that you are seeing called for around the world?
BD’A: Yes, boosting a city’s connectivity delivers significant benefits to those who live and work there as well as its visitors and tourists. And in a competitive world, it helps cities keep pace with global rivals. We welcome the Mayor’s undertaking to engage with industry.
We at BAI are perfectly placed to support cities like London grow their connectivity. Our model is a win-win-win-win the government wins, the transport authority wins, the passenger wins and BAI wins. There’s very few business models out there that can state that. We are open for business in Europe and looking forward to an exciting and busy number of years ahead.
LU: Great, many thanks for the time Billy, and looking forward to keeping our readers up to date with developments in this very exciting sector of our industry.
To contact Billy D'Arcy / BAI Communications - firstname.lastname@example.org
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