On December 29th, 5G cellular access was live – and ahead of schedule – from Chinatown to Yerba Buena in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). This swath of coverage was slated to be up and running by January 2023, but the holidays may have inspired a bit of magic.
Christos Karmis, the CEO of Newport Beach, California-based infrastructure provider Mobilitie, is crossing his fingers that the rest of the SFMTA’s 5G infrastructure deployment can unroll throughout 2023 just as smoothly.
Mobilitie sprung onto the telecommunications scene in 2005 as a traditional tower company. After building several thousand tower sites throughout the U.S. and internationally, the organization zeroed in on wireless communication infrastructure, from outdoor DAS networks to in-building existing networks. In 2021, the company was snapped up by BAI Communications.
While their specialty has come to be high-density Wi-Fi networks in large public spaces, they’ve also pivoted into deploying thousands of 5G small cells in urban centers across the nation like Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles.
But one of the biggest builds in the mix right now is in collaboration with the SFMTA, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and large commercial fiber plants. Part of what prepped Mobilitie to get ready to deliver in San Francisco was a DAS buildout for Sound Transit in Seattle, Washington.
According to Karmis, what differentiated Mobilitie to take on the SFMTA’s vision was their wide range of experience to complete not just one piece of the puzzle, but the complete vision in one fell swoop. The SFMTA project includes DAS coverage both underground and above-ground, small cells, macro and lightning-fast Wi-Fi via fiber. A similar type of construction currently underway by BAI is in London’s Underground, which hovers around the same timeline as San Francisco for phasing and completion.
Though Mobilitie is ahead of schedule, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been pain-points throughout deployment. “San Francisco is a massive network and the trains run every day. The work window is in the middle of the night, so you have to leave time to get people situated and do all of the clean-up before they can re-engage the trains,” explained Karmis.
The next phase of the SFMTA slated for completion will be along the Embarcadero by the tail-end of Q1 in March 2023. Even with a variety of balls in the air as pieces of the system go deeper into construction, Mobilitie, and BAI as a whole, used the lessons from working in other transit systems to build out realistic timelines. “We’re used to working in these complex environments where multiple stakeholders are involved and we’ve factored that into the schedule,” said Karmis.
As for what the future holds in the Bay Area once the SFMTA is complete, Karmis is keeping an eye on the market for ways to further Mobilitie’s reach, from updating 4G to 5G, deploying more small cells, and partnering with hotels, real estate and other markets to upgrade macro-infrastructure. For Karmis, Mobilitie remains in a sweet spot to provide a suite of services all under one roof. “We can bring together these elements together with a differentiated approach. I don’t think one company can compete with us in what we do. They can individually, but not as a whole.”
Another slate of potential projects down the line are solutions to bring better 5G connectivity to indoor environments from their outdoor counterparts since inbuilding can be a significant service challenge. When it comes to getting that seamless connectivity in major social spaces – think sporting arenas and stadiums – the organization is bullish.
But first, getting transit systems 5G-ready is the top priority. “The BART and the SFTMA is a backbone to our overall presence in the Bay Area,” Karmis said.
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