Building the Transit Station of the Future: How to Budget for Better In-Building Wireless

Sept. 11, 2017
Turn costs from Capex to Opex with new business model.

Like most other public and semi-public spaces these days, bus and rail stations have become places where commuters and travelers use their mobile devices to pass the time by catching up on work email, scrolling social media or streaming videos — and they expect seamless wireless connectivity no matter where in the station they are.

Additionally, transit hubs are becoming more “connected” places. Digital displays constantly update with data like arrival and departure times. Touchscreen kiosks show journey planner apps using up-to-the-minute-accurate information based on traffic and other factors. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors regulate functions like Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting, or measure passenger flow or track stress and conditions, adding new levels of complexity to how stations are managed and set up. Transit agency employees use data and analytics to more efficiently operate trains and keep travelers safe.

This increase in constant real-time data flow coupled with booming passenger wireless usage means that transit agencies need to think seriously about the types of networks they install in stations and hubs to ensure uninterrupted wireless connectivity — both now and in the future.

A distributed antenna system (DAS) can solve not just a transit agency’s current needs, but also position it to take advantage of the technologies of tomorrow — and there are several key components of a future-ready DAS platform.

The 8 Questions to Ask of a DAS System:

  1. Does the system support adding carriers and frequency bands without the need for additional hardware or expensive upgrades?
  2. How are the people in the stations — as well as transit employees — communicating now, and which applications and technologies are needed to support those preferences?
  3. What is the expectation regarding connectivity for future travelers and the next generation of employees, and what are the requirements to meet those expectations?
  4. Are there emerging technologies, like the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and 5G cellular, that need stable and reliable cellular connectivity?
  5. Is it full spectrum, so it can access all of the most utilized cellular and public safety signals as well as all of the frequencies available between 150 MHz and 2700 MHz?
  6. Is it fully fiber based, instead of cable based or a hybrid of cable and fiber, to keep costs lower and installation time to a minimum?
  7. How much hardware needs to be installed? Is it complicated? Are there multiple components to install that will add to installation time and costs?
  8. Is it multi-carrier — does it give access to all travelers and employees, no matter what carrier they use?

While asking these questions will help guide an agency’s search for the right in-station DAS system, there might be another challenge even after finding one that meets all these qualifications: capital outlay.

To solve that problem, look to a new business model: Cellular as a Service (CaaS).

A New In-Building Connectivity Business Model

It’s long been an accepted business model for all types of industries to outsource technologies — think of cloud storage or software as a service (SaaS) apps from companies like Microsoft. Many businesses pay licensing fees for the rights to use SaaS — and CaaS extends the same business model to the in-building wireless space.

Many transit agencies operate on tight budgets, and don’t have the capital outlay, or enough dedicated IT staff who are RF experts and can manage the wireless in-house, to own their own infrastructure. Even if those expenses are an options, many transit agencies don’t want to get that involved with a wireless system — they just want a simple mobile solution that works.

However, that doesn’t mean those same agencies don’t require better in-station cellular connectivity now, or want to be able to accommodate future technologies. With a CaaS option, improved connectivity becomes an operational expense — just like paying utility bills every month — removing the concerns about high upfront costs, as well as recurring downstream costs due to system changes and additions.

In the CaaS model, the solution is offered on a monthly, per-square-foot basis and includes deployment and on-going system monitoring and maintenance. Any new frequency or operator additions on the system or additional coverage areas would not involve any capital outlays by the transit agency, as the service agreement can accommodate upgrades.

This lets the transit agency depend on a reliable third party to manage the in-building wireless. The system is supported by industry-accepted service-level agreements as part of the ongoing monitoring of the solution, ensuring the enterprise gets an expected level of service every day, much like paying a utility bill creates the expectation that the lights always turn on.

CaaS creates an alternative business model that will allow transit agencies to check every box on their wireless system wish list, getting a best-in-class system by paying for it with an operational expenditure (Opex) model, not a capital expenditure (Capex) model.

Looking Toward the Future

According to ABI research, more than 80 percent of all mobile traffic originates or terminates indoors – making in-building DAS systems a “must-have for handling mobile and Wi-Fi traffic.” In light of this trend, and with average U.S. adult mobile internet usage quadrupling over the past five year, transit agencies need to think seriously about building an in-station wireless network that works both now and in the future.

With innovative new business models such as CaaS, even transit agencies with tight budgets have access to the same opportunities afforded by reliable in-building wireless, helping them better serve their customers and add the new capabilities of the digital age.

Using a CaaS model to invest in a best-in-class DAS system can bring agencies a broader range of solutions, allowing them to make decisions today that get them ready for the future, and giving leadership confidence that the choice they make today will still be the right choice down the road.

Scott Willis is president and CEO of Zinwave. 



Aug. 17, 2017