By Josh MacKinnon Director Wi-Fi Technologies, BAI Canada

This week, BAI Communications is attending the SmartTransit USA conference in Baltimore. We sat down with Josh MacKinnon, Director, Wi-Fi Technologies, for BAI Communications, based in Toronto, Canada to discuss the challenges of bringing Wi-Fi to a large transit system.

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

Josh MacKinnon (JM): When it comes to bringing Wi-Fi to a large-scale transit system, the biggest challenges faced by Transit Authorities is maintaining seamless connectivity for passengers travelling from stations to tunnels, as well as the ability to handle peak loads. In New York and Toronto, we can have more than 500,000 users connecting to the network any given day. The network needs to be able to sustain those peak loads throughout the day, and maintain impeccable data speed, whilst tens of thousands of passengers travel through the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) or the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) network.

Q. How are you addressing this challenge?

JM: This week we are showcasing our Onboard Network Connectivity Solution during the SmartTransit conference in Baltimore. This new solution replicates a typical onboard train Wi-Fi experience using an onboard installation as opposed to a pure platform-based solution. The main advantage of the onboard network connectivity solution rather than a station-located solution is seamless, high quality connectivity throughout a journey.  Conference attendees can see for themselves how millions of riders can access Wi-Fi and various online applications onboard trains. How fast and robust it is. There are no blackspots, just seamless performance, at Gigabit speeds.


The Onboard Network Connectivity Solution demonstration


Q. What is unique about your Wi-Fi solution? What is the benefit to Transit Authority?

JM: There are some vendors out there with turnkey solutions for Wi-Fi. However, we find that most of these solutions are developed for rail operators who want to provide Wi-Fi service strictly as an amenity. They don’t generate revenue nor do they help Transit Authorities with their operational needs. Typically, it’s expected that the transit operator will wholly fund this amenity. At BAI Communications, we provide another business model. What’s different about our approach, is that our solution has the Transit Authority in mind from the get go. Our customers, whether the TTC, the MTR (Mass Transit Railway Corporation) or the MTA, care about the riders getting the best connectivity experience, but eventually they realise that the network we build and operate for them can support other important aspect of their operations.

We build a multi-layered network from the start, meaning that the operations and maintenance aspect of a transit system can easily leverage the network. That can include train health monitoring systems, CCTV, fare payment system, help points, etc. In fact, it can be any connected object or thing – such as escalator, elevators, or digital display. For example, in New York, the MTA was able to install more than 3,000 help points across their 280 connected stations because our network was there in the first place.

Another interesting example about how the network can benefit the transit operations is when it comes to monitoring the rolling stock health. The Network Operation Centre may determine there is an issue with a train’s system. There is no way of knowing whether the issue is with the train carriage itself or with the communications system. Our solution can remotely determine if the train is offline for maintenance. At that point, we know with certainty the issue has nothing to do with the communications system, or if our maintenance team needs to be deployed to investigate. It avoids unnecessarily disruption – and labour costs.

Q. What uses case of connectivity in transit are you seeing from around the world?

JM: After operations and maintenance scenarios, public safety remains top of mind for all our customers. But it can have very different applications. For example, in New York, our network supports an entire separate public safety communications network dedicated for emergency services. In Toronto, the TTC was able to deploy the SafeTTC phone app thanks to the connectivity available across their transit system. This anti-harassment and reporting app allows users to report issues directly to the Toronto Transit Police. In the past month, there has been more than 60,000 downloads of the app, and it has even led to one arrest. In Hong Kong, the MTR deployed a new fleet of driverless trains late last year on their South Island Line. The trains have no MTR personnel at all. Our network enables real-time CCTV of carriage activity that is monitored remotely. In other Hong Kong lines, where trains still have drivers, they use real-time CCTV platform footage to provide train drivers a clear view of the platform activity, thus reducing risk of injuries.

You can meet Josh MacKinnon at the BAI Communications booth – A2 – at SmartTransit Conference in Baltimore from 24-25 October, or via email.

About BAI Communications

BAI Communications is a global leader in infrastructure communications. In Toronto, BAI Canada owns and operates a fibre-optic communication network for the Toronto Transit Corporation (TTC) providing connectivity to the TTC’s 293 million annual passengers. In New York City, Transit Wireless, a BAI Communications majority owned company, owns and operates the infrastructure communications for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), providing Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity for the MTA’s 1.8 billion annual passengers. In Hong Kong, RFE, a BAI Communications company has been working with the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR) for the past 20 years providing connectivity solutions and world leading data speed benefiting the MTR’s 1.7 billion annual passengers. In Australia, Broadcast Australia, a BAI Communications company, owns and operates a nation-wide tower network providing broadcasting service to 99% of the population on behalf of the national broadcasters, ABC and SBS.

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