Nathan Cornish has been an engineer at BAI Communications since 2005. Seven years after starting as an intern with Broadcast Australia, Nathan was given the opportunity to join the team at Transit Wireless, a majority-owned BAI Communications company, where he worked to design, launch and operate the wireless network within the New York City subway.
Nathan recently returned to his Australian roots where he continues to be responsible for leading the strategic side of product development for BAI Communications’ global transit business.
During our five minutes with Nathan, we covered everything from his career with BAI and advice for upcoming engineers to the importance of keeping people connected underground.
What’s the most exciting development happening in the industry right now?
The development of 5G is opening new opportunities for organisations like BAI Communications. From a technical perspective for the transit business, this means attaching new services on the fibre network in a subway, as well as enabling a higher capacity connection to the trains themselves for things like maintenance.
For customers, 5G will allow us to provide a better experience not only for people riding a subway but in surrounding neighbourhoods. This covers everything from enabling people to stream YouTube videos at a high speed while they’re waiting for the train to looking up directions whilst their riding the subway.
In addition to supporting the four major US wireless carriers, the Transit Wireless network provides a 4.9 GHz band for public safety and supports 1,200 intercom points that connect passengers directly to live information and emergency services. This allows people to contact family and friends during their commute, or make an emergency call should they need to.
Now that we’ve deployed Wi-Fi and cellular coverage across the New York subway, we recently worked on a tunnel coverage trial. This was a challenge as the New York subway lines never shut down. We had to get the Transit Authority (MTA) to agree to close the necessary lines for a weekend to allow us to safely bring machines and equipment in and out of the tunnel. We tested two different cable manufacturers and conducted a viability study for Single Cable MIMO – using one antenna whereas we traditionally we use two antennas.
The trial is ongoing, as we continue to face the challenge of balancing the passenger value of keeping the subway open at night against the logistical requirements of cabling deployment.
As an infrastructure provider, our ongoing focus is to make the system smarter. As 5G continues to evolve, so too does the importance for BAI Communications to provide a network with the capacity to meet 5G connectivity requirements.
You started with Broadcast Australia as an intern and worked in NYC / Transit Wireless for five years. How you got started in the industry?
I studied a Bachelor of Business and Engineering at University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) which required me to complete an internship while I was studying. I started my internship with Broadcast Australia during the third year of my degree. It was fantastic, and I spent the next four years studying part-time to allow myself to work full-time at Broadcast Australia while I completed my degree.
What is your career highlight to date?
Two projects stand out in my mind. The first was in 2009 – I was the lead engineer in the rollout of digital radio for ABC and SBS, which delivered high definition and clearer service to Australia’s five capital cities.
The second would have to be working for Transit Wireless and launching Wi-Fi and cellular coverage to all underground stations and subways in New York. When I moved from Broadcast Australia to Transit Wireless in 2012, there were eight people in the company and we delivered about six services. By the time I left for Sydney in 2017, there were 100 people in the company and we’d delivered Wi-Fi to more than 280 stations and had started moving into tunnels as well. I’m proud to have been part of a project which made a big difference to the lives of more than 1.8 billion people who ride the New York subway each year.
What would you say to someone considering an internship today?
You start your internship not knowing much about anything, so you should try to learn a lot about everything. Getting involved in as many opportunities as possible is the key to doing just that.
What does a day in the life of your role look like?
My day usually starts by spending a couple of hours on a call with the Transit Wireless team in the US. Today’s call was reviewing a recent development they’ve been testing in the subway tunnels. I then spend time with the local team discussing upcoming opportunities we’ve got all over the world.
What motivates and excites you about your job?
I love working with people all over the world who have different skillsets and experiences. Tapping into these various pools of talent to develop services that make a difference to people’s everyday lives is really motivating. A large part of my role is dealing with different transit groups across the globe and connecting the people with right skillsets and experience with the right opportunities. For example, I got involved with the company’s global mobility initiative when I was at Transit Wireless, by recruiting people from Broadcast Australia and bringing them to the US. We trained them at Transit Wireless and they’re now using their skills to support our global initiatives.
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
While I enjoy being part of a global team, time zones make it challenging to ensure we include everyone, all over the world, in our every decision.
What approach do you take to tackle this challenge?
When we’re working through a new initiative, we aim to involve a representative from every division or country. I also travel a lot, so I can be face to face with the teams in our offices across the globe to share knowledge and experience. You could say it’s a challenge but it’s also very exciting and rewarding.