Sprint Amps Its Rooftop Signal, Joins Transit Wireless Subway Project

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Wi-Fi at subway stations that have already been equipped.

The addition of Sprint will also provide service to Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers, who in early 2014 should have below-ground wireless access at 36 subway stations across the Chelsea neighborhood and midtown Manhattan.

Bayne says talks are underway to bring Verizon Wireless service to the stations as well. “We are also working to finalize extended contracts with T-Mobile and AT&T for the balance of the project,” he says.

Transit Wireless was formed in 2007, Bayne says, to pursue and fulfill a 25-year contract with the NYC Transit Authority to bring broadband wireless communications to all of the city’s subway stations. In 2010 Broadcast Australia, which owns and operates multimedia networks, acquired majority ownership of Transit Wireless.

The New York subway project comprises more than 22 million square feet of real estate that will receive access to wireless service, Bayne says. “What we’re deploying is a network that covers everything from 700 megahertz (MHz) to 6 gigahertz (GHz), [which includes] all your cellular bands, public Wi-Fi, as well as New York City Transit-owned spectrum,” he says.

An antenna access point connects this New York subway station to the wireless network.

Transit Wireless is designing, building, financing, and developing business on this subterranean network, Bayne says, with a revenue-sharing plan with the transit authority. The network is made up of layers with the cellular bands in one layer and the public safety and Wi-Fi bands in another layer.

Bayne’s company is also building a fiber optic network along the subway system throughout four of New York’s five boroughs. “We’re not building in Staten Island because there’s no underground subway there,” Bayne says.

Communications from every 40 to 50 subway stations will be aggregated into a base station “hotel,” he says. “All of our fiber trunks terminate back into those locations,” Bayne says, “The wireless carriers collocate there. That’s where we hand the signals back and forth.” He expects the project to require six of these base station hotels. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to establish 18 additional subway stations in several years, Bayne says, which his company will also be obligated to outfit for wireless service.

Construction began in 2011 on this underground wireless project and is planned to be completed in seven geographical phases. Phase One covered western Manhattan from 14th Street to 96th Street, which includes Times Square, Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Center, and Columbus Circle. “We’ll build all of Queens out second half of this year and into second quarter next year,” Bayne says. “We have until July 2018 to complete the network.” At the current pace, he expects to finish the entire project in four years.

Transit Wireless will operate the network after it is complete, and Bayne says that includes planning to accommodate ever-increasing levels of voice and data traffic. “We are trying to future-proof as best we know how,” he says. “We have added spare power, cable, and fiber optic distribution at every access point.”

Even if wireless technology evolves quickly, as Bayne expects, he believes the additional power and fiber cabling will allow his company to swap in new equipment as needed. For now, Bayne has plenty of work to keep him busy. “We’re deploying digital technology in a 110-year-old subway network with low ceilings, lots of heat, lots of moisture, and a lot of conflicting infrastructure,” he says.

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