Phase 2 of NYC Subway Wireless Plan Complete

Transit Wireless expands wireless to more New York City subway stops with the help of Motorola's ruggedized access points.

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Transit Wireless, a public wireless infrastructure specialist, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) officials gathered today in Manhattan to announce the completion of Phase 2 of a project to bring cellular and WiFi service to all 277 underground stations.

Phase 2 involved connecting 40 stations, 11 in Manhattan and 29 in the borough of Queens. Newly wired locations include major hubs like the Jamaica Center station in Queens and the Grand Central 42nd Street and 34th Street Herald Square stations in Manhattan. A total of 47 million riders monthly now have access to wireless service.

During a press conference, Transit Wireless' CEO Bill Bayne said the expansion involved "100 miles of fiber cable wired between the stations." Wireless services extend only to the platform and station areas, not the subway tunnels, he was careful to point out.

And the work of wiring all the stations, a seven-phase endeavor, is proceeding "a year ahead of schedule," he added. The project was initially slated to be completed in 2018, but Bayne projects a 2017 end date.

In total, commuters and visitors can now call, surf the Web or post a tweet in 76 New York City subway stations. Phase 1, completed 18 months ago, involved turning on the services in 36 Midtown Manhattan locations. In 2013, Transit Wireless reported that the system handled 2.6 million connections, 2.5 million of which were made on smartphones, and managed more than 60 terabytes of data.

Besides keeping people connected, the network also helps boost public safety, according to New York's governor, Andrew M. Cuomo. "Adding and improving wireless service at more subway stations provides a much-anticipated boost to riders' experience in one of the world's busiest and oldest subway systems, while offering an added level of security," said Cuomo in a statement.

"A more stable network below ground ensures that riders and first responders can seamlessly communicate in events of emergency, which is essential in a system that carries millions of passengers every day," he added.

An integral part of keeping the system running is Motorola's expertise in commercial wireless access points (APs).

"We're basically the WiFi provider," Rosalie Bibona, senior global product manager of Motorola Solutions' Enterprise Networks and Communications division, told eWEEK. "We supply them with ruggedized access points. The reason they came to Motorola is for our outdoor-rated access points."

Bibona estimated that it takes two to six APs per location to deliver WiFi service, a figure that varies depending on a station's size and configuration. She also noted that not all APs, even enterprise-grade models, are cut out for the NYC transit system.

"Underground is a tough RF [radio frequency] environment," said Bibona. Other challenges include the occasional act of vandalism and taking a beating from a cleaning crew's heavy-duty power washer. "If you can deploy underground, you can deploy anywhere," she said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...