After a two-week test run, Toronto’s free subway station Wi-Fi network officially launched Tuesday, ready to support thousands of users in two of its busiest stations.
Once the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has certified the network — called Tconnect — doesn’t interfere with its radio network, work will start on expanding the Wi-Fi system to 11 more downtown stations over the next 16 months.
Eventually the platforms and stairs at all 55 more underground stations will be wired by 2017.
The ad-supported Wi-Fi network is mainly for data, although with an app like Skype voice over Wi-Fi can be used. But for cellular voice and text service transit users will have to wait until cell carriers have signed a deal to connect. Unlike the Wi-Fi network, though, the cellular network will run in the tunnels so users can be on their devices the entire trip.
Ken Ranger, chief operating officer BAI Canada, which built and operates the network, says it has connectivity for all of the city’s six carriers.
The two stations already wired are linked by some 10 kilometers of fibre optic and data cable that connects to the Internet, he said. They run from a base station hotel near one of the stations, where switches from Cisco Systems Inc. and Solid Technology connect to access points made by Motorola Solutions. About 10 APs are needed per station. Each access point as three antennas (two for Wi-Fi, one for cellular) made by PCTel.
Ranger said Tconnect has already been used by 10,000 people during the test period.
An engineer who has designed telecom networks Canada, the U.S. and Brazil, Ranger said in because the network only works in the station and not the tunnels it was designed for capacity and not coverage.
For example, there could several thousand in each station online at any time — consider, he said, the trains hold 1,500 people each. If two are in a station that’s 3,000 people, plus those waiting on the platform.
The network is very similar to the one BAI designed and runs in New York City.
“We’re very confident that we’ve got a system that’s very robust and can handle the density of people,” Ranger said.
At the moment BAI Canada has a staff of seven, which is expected to double once the company gets the go-ahead to add more stations. About 40 contractors are used for installing the equipment, a number that is expected to grow to over 100.
BAI Canada is paying the TTC $25 million over 20 years for the right to build and operating the network.
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