BAI Communications is making progress on its growth, neutral host and geographic expansion strategy, pushing harder into the U.S. and U.K. with an M&A announcement and major project win in June.
BAI Communications Group CEO Igor Leprince said the pending acquisition of U.S-based Mobilitie fits with the company’s plans for growth in terms of scope, scale and geography.
“For us it was a bit of a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” Leprince, who took on the role of chief executive at BAI in May 2020, said in an interview with FierceWireless. The companies align not only as neutral host communications infrastructure providers, but with expertise in transit as well.
BAI helps provide connectivity infrastructure for transit systems in major cities around the world, including New York through its Transit Wireless operation, Hong Kong, and Toronto. Most recently, in the U.K. it won a 20-year concession with Transport for London (TfL) to outfit the London Underground stations and tunnels with fixed and wireless infrastructure, initially supporting 4G, as part of a large city-wide project. In Australia BAI has 752 transmission sites that cover 99% of the population with TV and radio broadcast. Mobilitie is a great complement to BAI’s U.S. East Coast assets, Leprince noted, with its own transit contracts in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area.
With a portfolio that includes 220 venues, 10,000 small cells and 300 tower sites, Mobilitie brings BAI national scale and presence across the U.S. The deal (which is still pending customary regulatory approval but is expected to close in the third quarter) will help BAI significantly accelerate its development plans in the region, he said.
BAI can also pair Mobilitie's offerings with its existing portfolio to bring to other key global markets, while also providing capital to expand U.S. operations. North America, the U.K. and Europe are three regions zeroed in on for growth.
In June, BAI's shareholders Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments) and Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) invested C$2.4 billion in BAI to help fuel its growth plans, including TfL and purchase of Mobilitie.
There are six categories BAI has its sights on, where Leprince sees neutral host model as very powerful: transit, smart cities, venues and in-building, fiber network, private networks, and public safety – the latter something BAI also is doing in both the U.S. and U.K.
TfL deal paves the way for London smart city
Transit falls in BAI’s wheelhouse of expertise, but with the TfL win the company’s able to leverage almost all aspects of its neutral host strategy to build and design a London-wide integrated communications network.
It involves delivering multi-carrier cellular, Wi-Fi and fiber services. The first phase is carrier infrastructure, with both fixed and mobile operators providing continuous 4G, and eventually 5G, coverage for customers traveling on the London Underground (the world’s oldest subway system) across stations and tunnels.
But there’s a lot more to it, according to Leprince.
“Really it’s a huge project that combines almost all aspects of our strategy,” he said, namely transit, 5G outdoor neutral host, fiber, and ultimately smart city applications.
He described the second part of the project, for a new high-capacity network that will enable fiber services providers to deliver full connectivity to premises and customers across the city. It will lay 1,242 miles of fiber starting this year.
Another key aspect is “tens of thousands” of streetscape assets from TfL to support outdoor small cells with 5G coverage and capacity, as well as IoT smart city use cases. Fiber and access to city infrastructure are important for deploying small cells, which are often needed for coverage in dense urban areas.
BAI is also building and operating an emergency services network within the transit system.
“The difference with this project is we’re starting from scratch, obviously there has been no coverage in the Tube until today,” he said. “It’s really an opportunity for London to leapfrog some of the other cities in the world, after maybe being a little bit behind in the last few years, so it’s quite an exciting project for us.”
BAI expects to invest more than £1 billion ($1.39 billion) across the length of the concession.
Transit use cases focus on efficiency
BAI is seeing a lot of development around efficiency-related use cases, some triggered or accelerated by Covid-19, across all of its transit systems, according to Leprince.
Security, safety, advertising and predicative maintenance are primary applications where BAI’s seen traction.
In Toronto, for example, connectivity use cases have been focused on foot traffic and anticipating crowding – also using data and analytics solutions designed by BAI. In Hong Kong, Leprince pointed to interest in real-time asset metering, CCTV, as well as predictive maintenance and things like smart ticketing, digital payments and connected signage.
In New York there are more traditional use cases like countdown clocks to notify passengers of incoming and departing trains. Transit Wireless is also providing public safety aspects, including a private network for the NYC Transit Authority using 4.9 GHz spectrum with a mesh Wi-Fi network. There are more than 1,000 Help Point connected safety kiosks in the underground stations for both transit info and emergency services.
“The interest and the traction [on particular use cases] depends really on where each part of the world are on their return to normal,” Leprince said, as it varies region by region.
In Leprince’s view, transit is one of the early adopters for private networks, experiencing the operational benefits of low-latency, high data rates, along with control and visibility of analytics and security.
Deploying private networks for transit is an important focus for BAI’s given its experience, but Leprince said the company wants to expand to other areas like seaports, large campuses and venues. And with hundreds of deployments in venues already, it’s an area where the Mobilitie acquisition brings more capabilities to the table.
BAI will focus on a few verticals for private networks, but also wants to work with mobile operators – who are BAI’s main customers - to do so. Private networks have gained significant attention from carriers and equipment vendors alike.
“We want to help them deploy and operate these private networks,” he said, also citing utilities, logistics, transport and healthcare as enterprises most suited for private networks.
In terms of market opportunity, BAI estimates the global market for private networks infrastructure should exceed $100 billion by 2026, and one- to two-thirds of that figure could be expected to go to neutral hosts.
With the TfL win under its belt and the Mobilitie acquisition pending, Leprince said BAI won’t stop there.
“We want to use these two great projects to deliver more, to continue to bring more services to our customers,” he said.