Solution Provider Transit Wireless Connects Millions of NYC Subway Riders Underground

Millions of New York City subway riders have a solution provider to thank for network connectivity access while underground for the first time.

Transit Wireless, a subsidiary of BAI Communications, designs, builds and operates cellular, Wi-Fi and fiber-based technology solutions. The solution provider was tapped by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to make Wi-Fi and cellular service available underground – a critical project for public safety. Transit Wireless not only delivered a carrier-neutral network to all 277 subway stations, but the solution provider finished the project two years ahead of schedule.

As of January 9, 2017, approximately 1 million New York City subway riders and emergency personal each day have had Wi-Fi and cellular access to carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon at each subway station, while underground.

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Via the terms of the 27-year, exclusive contract with the MTA, Transit has creatively built out and will continue to operate, maintain, and monitor cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity across each station using its carrier-neutral network, William Bayne, CEO of Transit Wireless told CRN.

"The NY subway serves 2 billion rides a year, and during those rides, it's been a dead zone. [Riders] couldn’t even dial 911 because there was no connectivity," Bayne said. "Through the cell carriers on our network, users now have full access to public safety resources, and even things we enjoy when we are sitting in our living rooms, like video and voice, we can have in the subway now."

In addition to building the broadband network for carrier services, Transit has deployed public Wi-Fi and a private Wi-Fi band that can be used by MTA personnel for internal communication needs, or by first responders during an emergency. Transit has also deployed thousands of emergency intercoms across the stations that riders can use to reach a live dispatcher.

The connectivity services, Bayne said, are seamless to users. Once inside a subway station, a user's mobile session will be handed off to the Transit network. Upon emerging from underground, users automatically switch back over to their carrier's network.

"It's exactly if we took our mobile experience above ground in the city and moved it below ground," he said.

Building out network infrastructure across a 110-year-old subway system with 277 different stations that were not designed with technology in mind was no easy undertaking, Bayne said.

"It has low ceilings and environmental issues with moisture, and extreme heat and cold, depending on the season, so we had to design the buildout on a station-by-station basis," he said.

In fact, environmental challenges and public safety were Transit's biggest challenge, Bayne said. The provider had to use hardened equipment that could hold up against extreme temperature changes, potential water damage, and even vandalism, while also ensuring the equipment could support demanding high-performance networking requirements.

The New York City subway system also runs 24/7, making the deployment of the equipment a unique challenge, too, he added.

"We had to find a way to install networks in nearly 300 stations, while minimally disturbing traffic, so we had to do most of our work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. We could only work in 20-minute bursts across the tracks to get equipment installed and also let trains through."

The project comes at no cost to New York taxpayers. Transit has invested more than $300 million into the connectivity project, and each service provider or agency with services present on the network is paying Transit to operate the network. The revenue from the carriers, in addition to revenues derived from additional network services offered on the network, will be shared between Transit and the MTA, Bayne said.

Down the road, Transit's network will help the MTA modernize the subways system by powering new services, such as digital advertising screens and train arrival countdown clocks.

"It's almost like a technology hotel," Bayne said. "We are an extension of the service provider's networks, and our network can connect users who expect to be connected wherever they are, to the outside world."