Transit Wireless will be ready to accommodate 600 MHz, FirstNet in New York City subway system

NY subway
Transit Wireless has a long-term agreement with the MTA to design, build, operate and maintain cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity in the underground subway stations in New York City.

Transit Wireless, the company charged with installing shared wireless infrastructure within hundreds of underground stations of the New York City subway, is preparing to not only accommodate carriers that won spectrum in the 600 MHz auction, but also to support FirstNet when that initiative is ready for it.

Transit Wireless, a subsidiary of BAI Communications, enables cellular and Wi-Fi services in New York City’s underground subway stations throughout Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens, providing coverage for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile customers. In fact, it has a 27-year partnership agreement with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to design, build, operate and maintain cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity in the underground subway stations.

The infrastructure to support the subway includes 120 miles of fiber optic cable, 4,000 cellular antennas and 5,000 Wi-Fi access points. It also supports public safety and transit communications as well as 3,000 Help Point kiosks for rider information and emergency communications.  

The entire project was completed a full two years ahead of the original schedule. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo deemed connectivity important enough that he asked everybody to get it done two years ahead of the original schedule, so it would be done by the end of 2016.

Now, Transit Wireless is working on equipping some stations with Wi-Fi-equipped train arrival clocks, which while not exactly easy, it’s easier than trying to install equipment in the other areas, given the trains run 24/7. The company is also working with the transit authority to equip above-ground stations with wireless and Wi-Fi coverage where it’s needed.

The clear goal is to extend connectivity throughout the entire subway venues, whether below or above ground. Studies are also ongoing as to how to extend coverage into the tunnels so that once riders get on the subway, they will be covered for the full commute, according to William Bayne, president and CEO of Transit Wireless.

The system has more than 300 tunnels of all types of geometries, and equipping them without disrupting traffic will require shooting signals down tunnels with minimal equipment to install. The issue is one of logistics more than technology, he said.

The primary solution underground is a neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS), and that is designed to support whatever technology the wireless carriers are using. When operators are ready to use the 600 MHz spectrum, for example, Transit Wireless will support it. T-Mobile US was the top bidder in the FCC’s incentive auction that wrapped up a few weeks ago, and T-Mobile executives have said they plan to put some of that spectrum to use as soon as this year.

Meanwhile, FirstNet recently awarded AT&T the task of providing the nation's first nationwide network dedicated to public safety, which means FirstNet’s public safety workers will get priority over other customers. As FirstNet approaches New York City, “we are prepared to support that as well” and provide the right filtering and technology behind that application so that first responders get priority, Bayne said.

Before it flicks the switch, so to speak, to support any new technology, Transit Wireless puts its network through tests with V-Comm serving as an independent resource providing measurement and engineering services. The experience is designed to be seamless to the rider so signals automatically hand off.

”We’re basically an extension of the carrier’s network,” he said.