Kevin Pike from BAI Communications lays out its plans to invest in smart precincts across Australia, and how the networks can be used by various public and private entities.
TowerXchange: Who is BAI Communications and what is your role with the company?
Kevin Pike, General Manager, Network Solutions, BAI Communications Australia: BAI Communications has several different businesses across the globe with focus points in the UK, the US, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. We consider ourselves as a global leader in designing, deploying and managing connectivity. Here in Australia, we operate one of the most extensive broadcast networks in the world.
We manage 741 sites and around 2000 TV and radio broadcasting services which cover 99% of the population. This is in addition to a further 400 or so towers across the country, which are shared between broadcasters, telcos, utilities and emergency services. Supported by our rich history in broadcast, we’ve initiated a hyper-growth strategy within our telecommunications business lines.
We’ve been able to take advantage of leading local industry expertise and our existing asset base and identified where we can provide valuable services that take advantage of the skills, knowledge, processes and technology that you can find in our different businesses globally. With this in mind, we help to deliver network infrastructure, private and public wireless and smart precincts. Each of these missions has the same objective – to help improve Australia’s communication landscape as a whole.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve added some great people to our team, which means we’re able to execute on this hypergrowth strategy. We’re really excited to be able to combine this extended expertise with our long standing experience to develop and execute on our new products and solutions. Bringing them to the Australian market will deliver on the connectivity needs for customers and communities today and of course in the future.
As far as my role is concerned, I work in Australia as the General Manager of Network Solutions. My primary focus is split between looking at more typical network infrastructure across our existing tower network, while also exploring the potential of new network infrastructure assets that we would look to deploy, in particular in the external environment, such as street furniture, small cells and smart poles.
TowerXchange: The Australian market has made huge strides in passive sharing with three new leading towercos being formed recently. Now the market is starting to look at what is beyond passive sharing. How does BAI view
Leveraging our expertise in network services will undoubtedly give BAI Communications an opportunity to expand what we are offering to mobile network operators (MNOs) and maintain a sharp focus on some of the more niche solutions that are not widely deployed, owned and managed by the existing towercos.
We see active sharing as a big part of the solutions that we can offer going forward. The use cases for networks that can be shared between multiple users go far beyond MNOs offering connectivity to a mobile handset. By investing in DAS in buildings, small cells, macro cells, street furniture and smart poles that can be used by many different agencies.
Beyond that, and with the intention of moving into the private wireless space, the customer base becomes far more diverse. For private networks, the customer is normally an enterprise, but our vision of building smart precincts widens this customer base further. MNOs and enterprises can still use the infrastructure for their own use cases, but you can also start to secure other customers, local authorities, or transport services for example.
We define a smart precinct as an integrated stack of network solutions that can be easily connected and are interoperable, typically by a single infrastructure or neutral host owner.
TowerXchange: Where is the demand for the smart precincts coming from?
We’re in discussion with a number of different government entities in Australia. For the existing precincts or areas that they are working on developing, we can offer to build and manage them on their behalf, then open them up to multiple other use cases.
This comes from both government and other associated customers and this is what’s really driving the demand associated with smart precincts. The other important thing to think about when talking about smart precincts is that they’re typically highly integrated and owned and managed by a single infrastructure provider.
The benefit is that the host is able to build an open access platform and easily integrate new users to be able to include multiple solutions like loT, Wi-Fi, small cells and the like.
Building this way means you’ve got multiple different types of infrastructure assets that can be installed across different venues, stadiums, rooftops and this gives you economies of scale that wouldn’t be possible if the different users were all building their own networks and the infrastructure required to run them.
Beyond the technology itself and reducing cost of deployment for different entities by working with a single provider, there are benefits to the landscape and environment as there is less parallel infrastructure.
Keeping the infrastructure blending into the landscape is much easier with one provider, which is a key consideration specifically for government entities, and in particular in areas of beauty or key landmarks, for example around harbourside locations in Sydney.
It also enables the solution to be provided at a single cost per asset with the ability to be easily scalable.
TowerXchange: Are there any examples of BAl’s work overseas that are being applied to the smart precinct projects in Australia?
Our smart city project in the UK with Sunderland City Council is a really good example of what we’ve been able to achieve so far.
In Sunderland, we have a number of different public authorities, including healthcare, for example, who are also using that technology stack for an essential public service wouldn’t necessarily available for commercialisation on its own.
Having government support to providing a suite of services for the smart precinct means the network can build up scale and you can onboard users who otherwise would not independently support the investment. Starting with government subsidies and then moving along the value chain to be able to commercialize other entities for the network later has real potential to opening up connectivity for the local population, businesses and services.
In Australia, we are at the earlier stages of moving along this value chain, which is nothing to do with our own competency or our own ability to offer these services, but more so a need for educating potential users about the benefits.
I’d point to our project in Sunderland and our work with Transport for London (TfL), as good examples of our technology and delivery capabilities as well as the commercial models that can be adopted to start showing some thought leadership to government and bring them on this journey with us.
We have been in discussions with government that have an ambition to create a highly advanced technology precinct in Sydney. The goal of the project is to provide more space for technology companies and affordable rates for startups and scaleups.
We’ve been talking with them about implementing a whole suite of network connectivity, as well as building owners in the precinct about DAS systems. We are really excited to be able to provide some opportunities here by bringing an integrated and coordinated approach across all of the different networking elements to deliver on their mission.
TowerXchange: How do you work effectively with the various stakeholders that you need to start working on a smart precinct?
It’s a complex ecosystem with multiple different stakeholders, and one challenge we face is that while a certain stakeholder might be really bought in to the idea, that isn’t always true across the board. We try to bring everyone together and work as closely as we can with users who see the value to understand the opportunities and challenges of all of those different stakeholders to understand the value we can provide them.
It’s exciting when these meetings start to uncover clever, intelligent solutions using our systems, models and frameworks to be able to meet all of the opportunities and challenges by piecing together the jigsaw of how this would work for everyone involved.
One concept that we have found particularly useful and which has had great success in our project in Sunderland is the “single pane of glass” concept, which seeks to plot a journey from the infrastructure layer all the way to the individual use cases and make sure that all of the stakeholders involved there are able to get seamless connectivity to be able to meet the needs of each of the use cases.
As a wholesale network provider, we don’t see a role in managing the use cases, but we can absolutely play a role in managing each of the different stakeholders. This would involve securing buy in from a core government agency. Beyond that, then you’ll have other different types of stakeholders, such as enterprises and MNOs.
TowerXchange: What is the process for bringing onboard an MNO or an enterprise as a user of a smart precinct network once one is up and running? Would it be as simple as a plug and play style model or are there other factors to consider?
It’s a great question, something that we’ve been thinking about and very carefully. Unfortunately, there is not one simple answer to what that technology solution would be.
There’s a very wide spectrum of what a particular user would adopt, and ultimately it depends on which components of the smart precinct we will be managing. But if you take it at a relatively simple level – that we’re installing the fibre and owning the street furniture or smart poles to be able to, for instance, install connectivity, that’s reasonably straightforward. All that would need to happen is for the MNO or enterprise to install some of their equipment nearby on a smart pole, a building or street asset or connect into the fibre.
TowerXchange: What can you tell us about BAI’s successful implementations overseas and lessons learnt? How can these be applied to tackle local issues?
BAI has strong expertise in the transit space. It has built and currently operates some of the largest transport communications networks in the world, including in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Hong Kong and most recently, London. BAI was awarded a 20-year concession by Transport for London in June 2021 to deliver mobile connectivity on the Underground. Once complete, customers will be able to make calls, check the latest travel information, keep on top of their emails, catch up on social media and live stream videos, transforming the passenger experience. TfL’s transformation will also serve as an example for other cities keen to embrace the benefits of smart city technologies. This is an area we are passionate about as a business.
BAI is also a leader in providing complex public and private wireless solutions to major stadiums in the US, for example Crypto.com and LA Live in Los Angeles. We have a portfolio of major buildings and venues and are operating on the forefront of shared infrastructure technologies.
Additionally, one of the biggest learnings from our leading smart city work with Sunderland City Council is the importance of public private partnerships (PPPs). Traditional infrastructure delivery models often involve disparate stakeholder groups and multiple agencies without a unified vision. In contrast, PPPs typically take a holistic, long-term approach to achieve transformative outcomes. This forward-thinking vision is critical as it enables cities to deliver positive socioeconomic and environmental outcomes over a sustained period. In Australia, we have the industry knowledge, and when we bring together our successful execution globally, we hope to see transformational outcomes take place.
TowerXchange: How do you think Telecommunications will evolve in the next decade?
Certainly a big question. The long-term trends in the industry will continue, such as the need for ubiquitous high-quality mobile and high-capacity broadband. Innovation will continue to be led by over-the-tops and start-ups and we have a strong pool of talent in Australia in this area. What we need to watch is that the digital divide does not increase, particularly in regional and rural Australia. We must instead nurture the industry to have seamless interconnectivity to enable greater sharing of data, applications and improved outcomes – of course underpinned by security at every level in the stack.
TowerXchange: How do you see BAI evolving over the next couple of years and what is your vision?
Our focus moving forward is to keep expanding our telecommunications and neutral host business in Australia. We are in a unique position to serve our customers as we have local knowledge combined with world-class global engineering expertise.
Over the next couple of years, transit and large venues like commercial real estate, shopping centres and stadiums, are where we are looking to extend our public wireless offering. In transit, the demand for onboard Wi-Fi, small cells and other solutions on passenger carriages, train stations and underground networks are driving growth opportunities. On the venue side, enterprises and venue owners are seeking solutions that help embrace productivity gains and improve coverage through IoT, enhanced automation, advanced analytics and private networking. The solutions developed will serve smart city/smart precincts too. We will continue our focus on our network solutions and critical communications business.
We look forward to working with customers to deliver connectivity solutions that enable Australians to enjoy enhanced connectivity experiences in their daily lives.