News from BWCS

BAI Adds Mobilitie and More WiFi on Trains Contracts to Growing Portfolio

Fri 15 Oct 2021

BAI Communications has continued its relentless expansion in the world of on-train WiFi. This week it completed the take-over of Mobilitie, a large US telecoms infrastructure owner. News of the agreement had first been leaked back in June of this year.

Asa result of the deal, BAI has taken on Mobilitie’s portfolio of assets, which span telecoms infrastructure contracts with transit operators in San Francisco and Seattle, as well as 220 large public venues’ DAS networks, 10,000 small cells and 300 tower sites across the US. Clearly this portfolio, plus the team of experts that go with them will complement BAI’s existing US ownership of Transit Wireless. BAI now says its focus is to expand its neutral host 5G connectivity solutions across major city transport networks, public infrastructure and large venues.

Mobilitie is perhaps best known currently for its work with San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), where it is the key player in a hugely ambitious four-stage plan to bring WiFi and 5G services to the trains and tunnels. The scheme will see the transit operator install WiFi along its 131 miles of track and 50 stations and in all of its new 775 train carriages. Other local agencies such as San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will follow suit.

The project is designed as a revenue sharing agreement between BART, SFMTA and Mobilitie. Over the initial 20-year term, the programme will generate a series of minimum guaranteed payments and revenue share amounts, as well as substantial infrastructure investments by Mobilitie. BART expects to generate more than US$243 million over 20 years at no direct cost to itself. It will do this by leveraging these systems to generate revenue from telecommunication businesses through licensing and access.

The first tranche of work will see 5G cellular services added to all SFMTA (Muni) tunnels, including the new Central Subway. These serve 11 miles and 11 underground stations. BART is leading this project following a unique agreement between BART and SFMTA, approved by their respective boards, to work together to offer better services while generating revenue. Although some areas will be ready sooner, this project is scheduled to complete work in all three tunnels by mid-2022.

The second load of work will see WiFi installed in all BART stations, covering platforms and outer areas around the ticket halls. This project is scheduled to be completed at all stations by autumn 2024.

Project 3 is where the WiFi finally makes it on board the trains. This is due to happen network-wide by 2025. Besides passenger WiFi services BART says the new system will allow it to offer real time information and emergency alerts through the digital monitors and to provide BART police with real-time access to security cameras.

The trackside network to support on-board WiFi will consist of approximately 150 short, low-profile poles. The poles, which will be used to in-fill the cellular network, will also provide improved mobile connectivity to those living in the surrounding area, extending up to a half a mile from the track. BART can also incorporate lighting to the poles in the areas where it thinks this will benefit communities.

The work on the WiFi on trains system is due to begin in the third quarter of this year.

Finally, underpinning all of this work, is a new fibre optic cable network which will be installed along some of BART and SFMTA’s Rights-of-Way. This will be used for the new wireless connectivity systems and to expand BART’s current fibre licensing business. These will include fibre options to improve communication networks and broadband internet services and support for carrier hotels and data centre connectivity.

Construction of the new 160-mile fibre backbone is currently underway and spans the Transbay Tube, an underwater rail tunnel, to connect Oakland and San Francisco.

In some ways BART is repeating history – for this isn’t the first time it has entered into a 20-year contract with such a provider. In 2014, BART terminated an agreement it had reached in 2009 with WiFi Rail, after the company had begun providing Wifi at some stations. WiFi Rail had planned to expand the service and offer customers hourly, daily and monthly rates plus a free ad-supported option, according to the East Bay Times.

At the time, BART said in a statement that it was ending what it called a "trial" of the WiFi service. The agency added that the service had only ever been available in downtown areas of San Francisco and Oakland and in only 5% of its fleet. For its part, WiFi Rail accused BART of reneging on its exclusive contract and took legal action.

Track-side connectivity and on-board WiFi provision will be the main subjects of BWCS’s WiFi on Trains Conference in London on the 16th and 17th of November.

The full list of speakers at this year’s Conference is available here … where you can also sign up for our Free WiFi on Trains News Service.