It’s the “summer of hell” for commuters in New York City—and not just those who use Penn Station, where multiple tracks will be out of service for rebuilding. Many of the 600,000-plus people who use the station every day are using alternative public transportation such as buses and ferries, meaning delays there, too, as those systems struggle to take on additional passengers.
When a lot of people have a lot of time to kill, Wi-Fi is a savior. It enables them to stay productive, such as checking work email and even videoconferencing from their mobile device. Wi-Fi also enables advertisers to reach these captive audiences, such as with digital signage inside stations and aboard trains, buses and ferries.
Many transit stations—even the “new” Penn Station—are underground, built to last and filled with architectural details. Those three factors can help and hurt Wi-Fi. Cellular signals from outdoor sites struggle to reach inside, and even the addition of indoor repeaters often doesn’t cover every nook and cranny. So adding Wi-Fi can mean the difference between staying productive and spending hours catching up once home.
But thick walls covered with architectural finishes also make it expensive and aesthetically difficult to run cable to add a dense network of Wi-Fi access points (APs). Even when power is already available in those locations, there’s still the additional cost of pulling category cable to each AP—especially in major cities where labor practices require a particular trade to do that kind of work. Coverage holes mean fewer places where digital signage can be installed for wayfinding and advertising, which means less revenue for a transit authority. Coverage holes also can undermine security when surveillance cameras use Wi-Fi for backhaul but can’t be placed in the ideal locations because there’s no signal.
In those respects, transit stations are a lot like historic hotels, which need Wi-Fi for a variety of internal and customer-facing services but also can’t simply trench marble floors and other architectural features just to run cables to APs. The good news is that transit authorities can learn from how the hospitality market is overcoming those challenges.
One way is by choosing a Wi-Fi solution that works well in a mesh configuration. That minimizes cable runs by enabling APs to relay traffic between one another. Mesh also can enable flexibility, such as connecting Wi-Fi surveillance cameras that are temporarily installed to target crime hot spots.
Another way is by choosing a Wi-Fi platform that can automatically adjust coverage, capacity and other parameters with techniques such as intelligent beamforming to meet changing needs. Some hotels use these capabilities to steer additional capacity to conference rooms as attendees pile in. Transit authorities can do the same during, say, rush hour or when track maintenance means more commuters than usual.
Finally, interaction between APs can increase capacity in additional ways. For example, there are a finite number of Wi-Fi channels available, and they get crowded as more commuters pack into a station. Samsung APs, for instance, help by working with one another to ensure that they’re all on the right radio channels to minimize capacity-sapping interference. A fast connection can make a long commute a lot more tolerable.