BAI Communications is working with ZenFi and LinkNYC group on extending connectivity to underserved communities in New York City, collaborating on an ongoing large public 5G deployment.
ZenFi recently opened the Queens Gigabit Center with LinkNYC and the NYC Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) in Jamaica, Queens. The center will provide elderly residents with a place to access computers and high-speed internet. This is the third Gigabit center to be opened in NYC this year. According to the city, 22% of Queens households do not have any home broadband connection.
BAI bought into this expanded connectivity venture with its recent acquisition of ZenFi Networks. Operating as an independent subsidiary of BAI, ZenFi has a large fiber footprint with 1,100 route miles in New York and New Jersey.
The fiber provider has supplied the underlying network for LinkNYC kiosks and towers deployed so far and has helped design the new Link5G poles with Comptek Technologies, the CityBridge Consortium and Antenna Design.
Acquisitive BAI bought ZenFi for a rumored $220 million at the end of July 2022. ZenFi adds to BAI’s growing global infrastructure portfolio.
LinkNYC is co-owned by the CityBridge consortium, Qualcomm and CIVIQ Smartscapes. The project started in 2014. So far, LinkNYC has rolled out around 5,000 of its first-generation Wi-Fi kiosks, making the LinkNYC venture one of the largest public Wi-Fi networks in the world.
Since July 2022, the group has started deploying its 32-foot-high second-generation 5G capable towers. Like the initial kiosks, these can provide Wi-Fi access for nearby users and charge devices. The towers, however, can also provide people with a 5G cellular connection.
“Link5G is leveraging a public-private partnership to bring improved mobile cellular service, free high-speed public Wi-Fi, and neutral fiber to communities across the five boroughs, with a focus on equity that ensures underserved communities get online first,” Nick Colvin, LinkNYC CEO, said in a statement to Fierce. “We’re proud to be at the forefront of fighting the digital divide and excited to continue working with our partners at OTI, ZenFi and BAI to deploy Link5G kiosks across the city.”
The Link5G structures leverage equipment from Ruckus, Fujitsu, Samsung, Nokia and Ericsson, among others.
LinkNYC has deployed dozens of the Link5G units in the last four months. It intends to roll out more than 2,000 all-told. Most of these will be deployed in Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island, or above 96th Street in Manhattan. Less than 20% of the Link5G poles installed to date are in Manhattan.
The city chooses the districts where Link5G towers are located based on the communities lacking other broadband options, having lower median annual incomes, lacking existing LinkNYC infrastructure, and having heavy pedestrian traffic.
However, there has been some pushback on the towers with some residents calling them eyesores.
Opening the world underground: BAI’s subway ambitions
For its part, closing the digital divide in New York isn’t the extent of BAI’s ambitions.
In October, we talked to BAI and Transit Wireless CTO Brendan O’Reilly while he was on one of his numerous visits to New York City. The executive said that BAI’s work with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in deploying 5G across the entire New York subway system is a major project for BAI.
“The MTA expansion would definitely be in the top three, maybe even number one. I think that the sheer scale of it [and] the relationship that we’re trying to build up with the city and the MTA is really important to us,” O’Reilly said.
BAI has similar projects in place with the London Underground. By the end of 2024, the company plans to give tube users access to mobile internet in every station and tunnel.
BAI is also working to provide Wi-Fi and 5G to customers in the San Francisco bay area. This Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) project should be fully completed by the end of 2024.
BAI is also working on a similar communications project for the City of Toronto’s subway system.
BAI is one of the major companies providing next-generation communications underground. Massive though these projects are, they aren’t the only ambitious schemes that BAI and O’Reilly are undertaking.
The private network plans
O’Reilly sees a big future for private networks in all kinds of scenarios. “The rise of private networks and the ability for enterprises to try and take back some control of their connectivity — I think this is a huge opportunity for the industry,” the CTO explains.
BAI has several major projects running in the private network space. These include:
Moray East: A Scottish offshore wind farm that covers 296 square kilometers with 100 wind turbines. “We have built a private network using gigawave,” O’Reilly said. “We’re guaranteeing a 100 gig to each vessel.”
Crypto.com (formerly Staples Center): BAI has deployed infrastructure to support the stadium’s push for interactive fan experiences.
Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly LA Galaxy): The stadium is working with BAI to deploy parking lot sensors and upgrade its ticketing.
The CTO explained that BAI wants to build a worldwide core network that it can plug separate regional clusters into. “The big push from our side is we want to build one core network for our global operations,” O’Reilly said
BAI buys: M&A past and present
As well as ZenFi, BAI has been busy buying up other infrastructure companies. It closed the deal on Mobilitie, one of the largest private telecoms infrastructure players in the U.S., in October 2021.
Mobilitie is known for deploying small cells around Los Angeles, as well as rolling out 4G and 5G antenna systems in large stadiums across the U.S.
In December 2021, BAI bought Vilicom, a wireless infrastructure player in Europe. This has enabled BAI to expand its private network reach.
The company is also a majority shareholder in Transit Wireless.
O’Reilly said that the northern hemisphere is BAI’s focus for the next few years. “The U.S. and the UK are the growth engine,” the CTO explained.
With multiple massive transit projects and public and private networks galore to roll out, BAI has a full plate for the foreseeable future.
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