Counting down the weeks until SmartTransit USA conference in Los Angeles, 28-30 October 2019, we discuss the challenges of bringing Wi-Fi to a large transit system with Josh MacKinnon, Director, Wi-Fi Technologies, for BAI Communications.

What are the biggest challenges of bringing Wi-Fi to a large transit system?

Josh MacKinnon (JM): The biggest challenges of bringing Wi-Fi to large-scale systems are maintaining seamless connectivity from stations to tunnels and handling peak loads. In New York and Toronto, we can have more than 650,000 users connecting to the network any given day. Those networks must sustain peak loads and impeccable data speed for passengers travelling on the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) or TTC (Toronto Transit Commission).

How are you addressing this challenge?

JM: Last year we showcased our onboard network connectivity solution at the SmartTransit conference in Philadelphia. The solution replicates a typical Wi-Fi experience using an onboard installation, rather than a platform-based solution. The advantage of onboard network connectivity is seamless, high quality connectivity throughout a journey. Conference participants saw for themselves how fast and robust it is. Millions of riders can easily access Wi-Fi without blackspots, just seamless performance at Gigabit speeds.

Connected Train - Smart Transit

Demonstrating the onboard network connectivity solution

What is unique about your Wi-Fi solution? What is the benefit for a transit authority?

JM: There are turnkey Wi-Fi solutions available for rail operators wanting to provide Wi-Fi strictly as an amenity. They don’t help to generate revenue nor do they help transit authorities with their operational needs. At BAI Communications, we offer an alternate business model.

Our approach has the transit authority’s needs top of mind. Transit authorities know how important it is for passengers to get the best connectivity experience. Our customers also know that the network we build and operate for them can support other important elements of their operation.

We build a multi-layered Wi-Fi network that can also leverage operations and maintenance systems, from the start. This includes train health monitoring systems, CCTV, the fare payment system, help points, etc. In fact, we can connect our network to any object – such as escalators, elevators, or digital displays. In New York, the MTA could install more than 3,000 help points across 280 connected stations, by using our multi-layered network.

Another interesting example about how the network can benefit transit operations is monitoring the health of rolling stock. The Network Operation Centre can detect an issue with a train’s system, but can’t tell whether the problem is with a train carriage or the communications system. Our solution determines that the train is offline for maintenance. We then know with certainty that the issue is not the communications system. So, the maintenance team knows to investigate. Such scenarios avoid unnecessary disruption and costs.

What use cases of transit connectivity are you seeing around the world?

JM: Along with operations and maintenance, public safety is top of mind for all our customers. But it can have very different applications. For example, in New York, our network supports an entire public safety communications network solely dedicated to emergency services.

In Toronto, the TTC deployed the SafeTTC phone app, thanks to the connectivity available across TTC’s transit system. This anti-harassment and reporting app reports issues directly to the Toronto Transit Police. The app has been downloaded tens of thousands of times and has even led to one arrest.

In Hong Kong, the MTR (Mass Transit Railway Corporation), deployed a new fleet of driverless trains on their South Island Line. Those trains have no MTR personnel on board at all. Our network enables real-time CCTV remote monitoring of carriage activity. Other train lines use CCTV platform footage, giving drivers a clear view of activity, reducing risk of injuries.

About BAI Communications

BAI Communications designs, builds and operates communications infrastructure – cellular, Wi-Fi, broadcast, radio and IP networks – connecting communities around the world. We unlock new services and revenue for our customers, enabling them to deliver better connectivity and enhanced experiences for people, communities and economies.

With operations in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the USA, BAI operates part of its Australian business under Broadcast Australia and also has a majority stake in Transit Wireless (New York).