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Transit Wireless | BAI Communications

Building in the boroughs: part 3: the Bronx

22 June 2018

Transit Wireless (a majority owned BAI Communications company) is known for the cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity it implemented throughout the MTA’s subway system; nowadays, New Yorkers wouldn’t recognize a subway station without cellular and Wi-Fi service. Despite the wireless communications (WiCom) network’s popularity, most of the city’s 5.7 million daily riders have no idea of how it came to be. In the third part of our Building in The Boroughs series, we follow the network build out into the Bronx – optimizing what we learned in other boroughs, and running into new challenges as we extended connectivity in NYC and delivered innovative new services for riders.

Construction in the Bronx began during Phase IV, more than halfway through building the WiCom network. Our company initially began construction in 2011, equipping six stations in Chelsea with commercial 2G and 3G cellular and Wi-Fi services. Although the first stations were used as a structural baseline for the project, the network’s capabilities were continuously refined and new services offered during each phase. During the first phase, a 4.9 GHz band was approved, providing Public Safety services such as E911 capabilities, as well as giving the network additional redundancy and backup power. Our own Wi-Fi network, TransitWirelessWiFi™, was even introduced by Phase II, and installed in all 115 Phase I & II stations. Phase III saw even more services added to the network, as Help Point intercoms were approved. Dark Fiber was also approved and added to the network during Phase III, providing the network with better signal strength.

The first three phases of the build brought many accomplishments as we became familiar with the underground landscape. While in the Bronx, construction hit an unexpected snag when we had to refine our designs to match the particularly confined environments, as well as the ADA regulations of that space. Although equipment only had to be adjusted an eighth of an inch from our original design plans, the change would end up altering the design plan for the station completely. Since design plans were centralized around the best place to put antennas and other hardware for optimal signal, moving them even slightly would affect the quality of the network. Many of these designs, namely for stations at the beginning of the Grand Concourse, were redone, resubmitted to the NYCT for approval and finally accepted. Each design modification provided another opportunity for ingenuity, as we had to invent ways for each station to get optimal service, regardless of its structural hindrances.

We also had to handle many cases of civil construction in order to implement the network in the Bronx. Our network’s connectivity is partially sourced from thousands of miles of fiber optic cable that connects each individual station to one of our five data centers. In order to make these points of connectivity from a station to a data center, excavation is required, and therefore so is access to manholes. Unlike some other boroughs before it, excavation in the Bronx requires permissions from the company who owns the manholes in order to break ground. Waiting could take up to six months—and the work was yet to be done. In order to keep on schedule, our team made sure that all the other elements of our Bronx build were in place and ready to go when permissions were granted. Once permitted, our team was ready with a full-crew, ready to work non-stop. Laying the fiber took up to 12 hours, even between the shortest station distances measuring a of a quarter-mile.

Building of the WiCom network in the Bronx took a lot of hard work and patience. The change in our design plans, as well the organization it took for us to plan the excavations gave us a new understanding of ingenuity, and reminded us how important it is to keep thinking on one’s feet. From redesigns to reapprovals, we’d learned that although we’d amassed knowledge and experience through Phases I-III, there would always be unexpected factors to this project— to which we adapted and improved.

For more of the Transit Wireless ‘Building of the boroughs’ series, check out Part I: Manhattan and Part II: Queens.