In 2011, Transit Wireless (a majority-owned BAI Communications company) began construction on a WiCom network for New York City’s subway system. A project of this type was unprecedented; no one had ever attempted to modernize the 110-year-old transit system and bring it into the 21st century. In our four-part ‘Building of the Boroughs’ blog series, we will take you borough by borough through the different challenges Transit Wireless overcame while implementing cellular and wireless connectivity for the entire New York City subway system.

The building of our network began in Manhattan, where six stations in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan were equipped with commercial 2G and 3G cellular and Wi-Fi services. The build was split into phases, allowing our team to gain familiarity of the subway’s landscape and adjust their plans accordingly. As an example, in the first phase, each station was built almost as a modular network, with a UPS and RFN per platform. By phase two, our crew had learned that a typical station actually only needed one UPS and RFN each, opposed to the multiple being used. This change cut the cost and build time needed for each station down tremendously. Another adjustment was changing the mounting tabs on the AP Boxes and applying higher-powered RFNs to improve wireless signal. Applying what we’d learned in phase one of the project made phase two much less costly, and much more efficient.

As we continued to implement service around Manhattan, we found many of the stations required a custom design. These designs could be needed for many reasons, including when a fiber connectivity point is on private property, above ground and in any way immediately noticeable. All of these factors made St. Nicholas- 191st subway station particularly difficult to connect to the network. The connectivity point for this station is on a private property line, and is above instead of underground. This required a unique conduit design that would be unobtrusive and blend into the environment.

Similarly, in Columbus Circle station, a different shape and size of access point box was installed to meet the caliber of aesthetics required by the State Historic Preservation Office. This access point box also serves as a wheelchair boarding sign, thanks to a few modifications made to the original plans.

Manhattan is an island, but connecting to another island – Roosevelt, and the F line – was a unique challenge. In this case, getting the fiber from Manhattan to the island required lots of physical coordination between field engineers laying the cable and getting in and out tunnels and shafts. Teams worked long hours, day and night on rotation, to complete the installation of connectivity between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan and make sure the network functioned optimally.

Scale can also be an issue – as with Westfield World Trade Center, which consists of five distinct subway stations and a large shopping complex. The sheer size of the project required permits from many different government organizations and private permissions. In addition to the coordination of several institutions, many types of designs had to be created to ensure connectivity through each level, as well fit the aesthetic requirements of the build. Westfield World Trade Center also required that all five stations had separate entrance points of connectivity from the street level. The infrastructure of the build site was also already wired with different technologies that we usually don’t use in our network. As a mall, Westfield World Trade Center had air conditioning systems and CAT6 connections for Wi-Fi that subway stations do not. In order to successfully incorporate these technologies into our plans, we modified our Access Points so they wouldn’t be housed in AP Boxes, and then connected them to existing ethernet jacks around Westfield.

Throughout the build out process, our team learned quickly that although specialized machinery and cutting-edge technology made the build physically possible, it was really people-power that made the project successful. Learning how to work with several different people and groups, getting their cooperation to work together, and building trust between factions to optimize work flow, helped move the project along and deliver the complete wireless and Wi-Fi system. As a result, our WiCom network that started in Manhattan, now extends across almost 700 track miles of the subway system in four boroughs. As impediments were turned into innovations, we were able deliver this network to the riding public two years ahead of schedule. We look forward to discussing how we were able to optimize the building process of the WiCom infrastructure in the Bronx, in the next installation of our series.