If we are going to live in a world where billions of items are connected to the Internet, then investment in reliable and ubiquitous Wi-Fi is crucial, according to Brett Savill of BAI Group, the company responsible for rolling out one of the world’s largest free Wi-Fi network in New York City.
BAI Group, which acquired Transit Wireless in 2010, is in the process of hooking up 279 underground New York train stations with free Wi-Fi for the 1.6 million passengers who ride the subway each year.
Also announced this month is that a team involving BAI Group/Transit Wireless will roll out up to 10,000 Wi-Fi kiosks with gigabit speeds above ground, which New Yorkers can access for free 24/7. Some kiosks will be up and running by the end of 2015.
The kiosks will also have embedded phones, where residents can make free phones calls within the US; free charging stations for mobiles; and a touchscreen tablet interface for connecting with the city’s services, especially emergency services.
Addressing the IoT Connect 2014 event organised by Informa this week, Savill spoke about getting the conditions right now to be able to take advantage of the data and connectivity opportunities of the Internet of Things in the future.
“When we talk about the Internet of Things, from our perspective we need to make sure we have a high-way in order to drive the innovation and investment required to get the best of it,” he said.
“That means companies that own the infrastructure – be it governments or private enterprises – need to think through what they are going to require and what they think their customers require over the next five to 10 years.”
Savill said BAI Group is about a third way through the rollout of the underground Wi-Fi project, and will have completed 110 stations by Northern spring 2015.
“Our typical station design [in New York] has 10-20 access points. And if any of you have used free Wi-Fi in Melbourne [station], for example, that’s typically got half a dozen access points,” he said.
The underground project is a six-band distributed antenna system combined with a three-band carrier-grade Wi-Fi system for 2.4 and 5.8 GHz unlicensed spectrum and 4.9GHz public safety spectrum. About 7000 antennas cover an area of 2 million square metres, with about 500 frequency nodes creating this common platform to transmit or receive a signal.
Above ground, there is about 200 kilometres of trunk fibre that stretches through the streets of New York City. The major four telecommunication companies in the US — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint — have signed up to the rollout.
BAI Group has also deployed beacons in New York’s Grand Central station. “You have got a whole range of different technologies that will be enabled once you’ve got beacons. Having Bluetooth-enabled beacons means you can get even more different devices and opportunities stacked on top,” Savill said.
User data is one of key values in rolling out this Wi-Fi network, Savill said. “Most consumers when interviewed about this feel they understand the trade-off of free Wi-Fi for data used for commercial purposes,” he said.
All this technology sounds very expensive, so how does BAI Group provide all this for free? Through advertising and sponsorship revenues, Wi-Fi roaming and wholesale agreements and through B2B/M2M revenues such digital signage content delivery, CCTV backhaul, sensor connectivity.
For the subway project, Savill said there’s a "multi-user" approach to support revenue. This includes digital signage, offering high-speed streaming for CCTV cameras, offering location-based services for emergency services, and in the future providing telemetry and machine-to-machine analytics.
Google and Microsoft are also sponsoring the underground network project. The current sponsor is Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines promoting their new ultra modern high technology cruise ship, with many smaller companies, such as shops located near station entrances, interested in point-of-sale promotions.
“What you see in Australia for free Wi-Fi deployments is essentially it’s a cost-based exercise that's very much done by local council and as a consequence it’s not a particularly good consumer experience.
“We are providing great consumer experience, not because we are great people but because... we know that if you are going to get Google and Microsoft to associate their brand name with our service then it has to be a superb experience.
“It’s quite difficult to make money out of Wi-Fi itself. That’s why I was talking about the multi-user network, because unless you can get to those five or six revenue streams you are not going to make a decent return.”
He said BAI Group will act as a “neutral host” or independent network operator that makes “the investment off its own balance sheet under a contract struck with the owner of the infrastructure so that the owners’ policy outcomes are achieved”.
Under the 25-year contact with the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA), BAI Group will provide a portion of its revenue back to the MTA, he added.