One word links passengers on Hong Kong’s MTR West Island Line, New York’s Metro and Toronto’s network of subway stations – connectivity. The riders on those networks, among the world’s busiest, can remain connected throughout their journey whether answering emails, reading the news or communicating with friends and family. Today we gain an exclusive insight into how this has been made possible. Yes, there’s cutting-edge technology, some fantastic digital innovation and plenty of hard work but what we are focussing on today is the unique business platform that BAI Communications use to deliver this for some of the world’s most demanding metro passengers. Over the last decade, passenger connectivity on public transport has moved from a welcome bonus to an expected service. The proliferation of opportunities around remote monitoring, scheduling, signage and other digital enhancements have opened a world of potential for efficiencies and smarter running of networks to transit agencies. But to deliver these transit communications solutions and platforms is a significant challenge for metro and subway operators.
But firstly, where to begin with the hurdles that need to be overcome?
Well there’s the cost of course. Few metros have large cash reserves available for major investments into a communications network and typically rely on a patchwork of funding to drive projects forward. There’s the risk of something failing, we can all think of examples where big projects haven’t worked as hoped and a major financial, political and professional fall-out has ensued. Then there’s the distraction from the metro’s core responsibility – of moving its passenger quickly, efficiently and cost effectively from A to B. And finally there’s a skills gap – new digital systems demand specialists who keep up to date with the latest technologies and are able to deploy and maintain them. If an operator doesn’t have these skills in house – and it probably won’t – it needs to be outsourced. And with this comes a matter of trust. To relinquish control over mission critical systems to a 3rd party, private network operator (PNO) a metro has to be very confident in their ability, diligence and security.
It’s pretty tough. One company agrees and has responded by resetting industry thinking by launching a new approach for transit communications. That company is BAI Communications, a global company that builds and operates highly available communications networks – Wi-Fi, cellular, broadcast and radio, – across sectors challenged with connectivity, and mostly in public transport. It is these innovators that are keeping those passengers in Hong Kong, New York and Toronto metros connected whilst on-board and allow those metros to focus on the business of running its trains.
The system that BAI Communications ( @BAIComms ) deploys is highly sophisticated, founded on an optical fiber backbone, installing reliable and seamlessly integrated LAN, cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity both above and below ground. In addition to providing cellular and Wi-Fi coverage to billions of riders annually, it also enables digital fare collections, public safety communications, remote monitoring and control, commuter analytics, scheduling and digital signage – the full portfolio of transit communication requirements.
The PNO they offer is agile and fast when it comes to network expansion and maintenance, and responsive to the transit authority’s needs.
Best of all, the transit authority no longer has to sink resources into building and running a communications network, or keep abreast of the latest technology developments.
It can trust BAI to ensure communications run smoothly, secure in the knowledge this is not only a practical solution, but an economical and low-risk one as well. Working with a 3rd party in such a significant way is still a major departure for most metro and subway operators.
We asked Jerry Elliott, CEO at BAI Communications USA to share some more about how an operator reaches a point where it is comfortable partnering with a PNO to operate some or all of its critical communication systems; “It’s all about trust. And it has to be won gradually. We typically engage in long term agreements – 20 – 30 years - with transit authorities. What might begin as a neutral relationship, where we are engaged to build and operate a network for cellular and Wi-Fi networks, grows as the PNO is entrusted first with non-critical transit systems, as a means of leveraging the new network infrastructure. As the PNO proves itself, this trust progresses to some critical systems, until the transit authority considers the PNO its trusted network partner. ”
The neutrality is a key point, with BAI Communications the host for a multitude of customers across a range of technologies and experts across multiple wireless technologies including 3G, LTE, High Frequency Wi-Fi, subscription services and public safety communications such as TETRA, TETRAPOL and LTE-A networks.
In addition to giving the operator confidence they will make the best purchasing decisions, collocation when it does occur can provide a cost-effective solution by sharing infrastructure with carriers, service providers or large enterprises seeking access to high capacity networks.
So with an insight into the benefits, we’ve seen the technology involved, learnt about how trust is earned step by step but what about that all important final test? How this is all going to be financed?
BAI acknowledge this is a challenge for the operator and again offer a unique platform – they are a willing investor and take the longterm view, with the typical length of a partnership with an operator being 20-30 years. “We have the financial stability and capability to take on the cost and the risk of the build. In New York, we’ve invested USD$300m over five years to build the entire network at no cost to the MTA or the NYC tax payers. As we typically engage in long term partnership with transit operators, we can apply our expertise in the operation and commercialisation of the network over time,” said Jim Hassell, Group CEO, BAI Communications.
Alternative funding approaches possible – revenue shares or licence fees are available to support investments.
One construction cost can be borne for all services whilst commercial simplicity through a single point of contact to various users of the networks including mobile carriers simplifies each process. And future-proofed systems can satisfy an ever-growing demand for wireless connectivity.
And finally, the widening of BAI Communications work with the industry has continued this year, with the acquisition of inMOTION Wireless together with a 20+ year licence to build and operate the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) Wi-Fi public network for daily riders and local network. The build has now commenced and soon those in New England will be soon joining the exclusive band of constantly connected passengers.
This feature first appeared in The next generation of rail and metro wireless communications which is still available for download and read for free.