Esmond Cheung has been part of BAI Communications Hong Kong from day one. Since joining the business in 1997, Esmond has gained extensive experience and knowledge from building the communications system for the Hong Kong MTR Corporation Ltd (MTR) and working on other projects, including delivering services for public safety systems.

We sat down with Esmond to find out more about his 21 years with BAI Communications Hong Kong (previously RFE), which projects have stood out as highlights, and how he’s seen the industry change throughout his career.

What’s the most exciting development happening in the industry right now?

Indoor Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and active antennas are paving the way for 5G. Due to current spectrum assignments, some countries still operate 2G and 3G services. So, if a new in-building DAS project is deployed, it will also need active antennas to provide multi-operator and multi-band service (2G, 3G and 4G).

Existing infrastructure, like power, fibre and STP (shielded twisted pair) cabling, can often be reused for migrating to 5G. We can increase its maximum throughput capacity and implement new features like interleaving MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output), which has a lower cost-to-performance ratio than full MIMO.

What’s your career highlight to date?

The very first project I worked on still stands as my career highlight – delivering MTR’s second-ever connectivity project. We deployed DCS 1800 MHz for the MTR metro across about 40 stations and tunnels within a two-year period. The project added enough additional spectrum to allow increased mobile network coverage, from three operators to six. I’m particularly proud of this project because it was so innovative for its time. It was 1997 and we delivered mobile phone coverage to the train network for phone calls.

What does a day in the life of your job look like?

I like to get involved with each of my teams daily, to see how they’re progressing and where I can provide additional support and resources. I have six direct reports, and each of them manages a team of three to 10 people. We’re currently working on a large project with the Shatin Central Link, delivering 2G, 3G and 4G MIMO.

What’s the biggest challenge about your job? How do you overcome it?

Delivering unforeseen requests from our customers can be a challenge, but one we take in our stride. The benefit is that we have multiple projects being delivered by different teams running in parallel, so we have the flexibility to share resources. These include temporary stock transfer and sharing team members and vehicles to nearby sites.

We have a collegial team culture, which means we always find ways to deal with challenges. Testament to this is the way we delivered an urgent project for the XRL Express Railway Line in just five days on very short notice.

The team’s ability to flex and collaborate is also shown in our ability to quickly extend cellular coverage areas; for example, we shared resources and headcount to deliver cellular coverage to a non-coverage area of the West Island Line.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

Riding the MTR and seeing passengers use their mobile devices to play games, browse the internet, text or talk brings a smile to my face. It’s very rewarding to see that our work behind the scenes to keep people connected is paying off.

My other favourite aspect is knowing our technology is helping to keep people safe. BAI’s technology provides radio connectivity for the public safety system on the MTR, which deploys policemen to the exact door of the train where their assistance is required. There are eight carriages, each with five doors, so this ensures policemen get to where their support is needed as quickly as possible.

Where do you see BAI Communications Hong Kong in five years from now?

The expansion of the business from our traditional 2G/3G/4G business, into others like station Wi-Fi and track-to-train Wi-Fi. In the past five years we’ve delivered a project that saw remote live video streaming from in-train camera to the operation control centre via 3G/4G technology, which is beyond our traditional 2G/3G/4G business. This is the type of success and innovation we’re aiming to emulate over the next five years.