An Inside Towers Interview
BAI Communications, based in Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia, recently made two bold moves to elevate the company as a global infrastructure provider.
First, BAI signed a major agreement with Transport for London (TfL) to provide wireless communications for the London, U.K., subway system. BAI is an established provider of wireless communications for subway and transit systems in major cities around the world – New York, Toronto, Hong Kong. Right behind the TfL deal, BAI acquired Newport Beach, CA-based Mobilitie, a prominent neutral host operator in the U.S., as Inside Towers reported.
Igor Leprince, BAI Group CEO, acknowledges the importance of the TfL announcement telling Inside Towers, “London, is still to this day, probably one of the biggest cities in the world where you don’t have such [transit wireless] coverage.”
Under the $1.4 billion, 20-year concession contract, BAI will design, build, and implement a city-wide, integrated communication network that delivers multi-carrier cellular, WiFi and fiber connectivity. With BAI as the neutral host, the TfL network will be 4G/5G-ready for both fixed and mobile operators to fast-track London as a smart city.
BAI’s wireless network will provide 4G/5G coverage in the London tube’s 170 stations and over 200 tunnels. Running cable in the tunnels is a challenge. Tunnels are not straight and some of the tube lines are “really old” with very limited space between the roof of the carriage and the tunnel ceiling. Plus, installation work can only be done after midnight when few trains are running.
Above ground, the network incorporates roughly 100,000 streetscape assets – bus stops, light poles, small cell support structures – for 5G coverage/capacity in a dense urban environment. In the future, the network will enable IoT smart city use cases and applications by combining 5G small cells and fiber.
In parallel, BAI will build and operate in the tube the U.K.’s emergency services network for police, ambulance and fire services.
Leprince confirms, “It’s really a project that combines almost all the aspects of what we do with strategy. It’s our core transit communications, [like] what we do in New York, in Canada. It is 5G outdoors with streetscape. Its neutral host, it’s fiber and in the future, smart cities. And that’s why it’s a big and exciting project for us for sure.”
“[Mobilitie is] a fantastic opportunity for us,” enthuses Leprince, “because it aligns perfectly with our core business and our vision for our companies.” Mobilitie is a neutral host communication infrastructure provider with towers and a small cell portfolio across 45 states and expertise in transit systems in Seattle and San Francisco.
He points out, “Mobilitie fits … right into the core BAI transit communication pillar of our strategy. They also have [large] venues. They are at scale across the U.S. And that is a huge portfolio set of capabilities they are bringing to us that we want to continue to accelerate in the U.S. but also replicate around the world, in the U.K., Europe, Canada and other places.”
Leprince says, “It’s good for BAI, it’s definitely good for Mobilitie because we’re going to try to supercharge our [combined] growth and good for customers, especially our U.S. customers, because suddenly, we have scope and scale and backup of shareholders that I think will work well for all the parties. Absolutely, it brings capability on a national scale, and the presence that we didn’t have.”
Leprince sees a significant opportunity to engage more cities around the world in TfL-like projects and programs since the London project allows BAI to build the foundation and connectivity for smart city or smart community applications.
“We see very strong driving opportunity in the U.S., in the U.K., in the markets where we are,” he explains. “That’s definitely a key part of our strategy going forward. This public-private partnership is what we’re good at.”
Leprince emphasizes that BAI can work under different business models and that no one size fits all. “We can build, operate, and transfer. We can build and operate. We can own.” The model differs in rural areas, in cities, for small and large enterprises, above ground or underground.
“We are very open, and beyond that, we have shareholders that allow us to do [project] financing and funding that makes us unique,” he concludes. “We will stay open to these different models, depending on what the customers want.”
By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor