Connected: Dynamic Route Communications for The Staten Island Ferry

Situation:
As one of the oldest and busiest ferry systems in the world, providing trips to over 24 million riders per year, Staten Island Ferry in New York City, NY needed to upgrade its existing communications network for the vessels in its fleet. The ferry system, which boasts a 24-hour, 365 day-a-year schedule, needed to ensure its vessels provided a safe and secure travel medium no matter the time or environment.

As a part of this upgrade initiative, operators at Staten Island Ferry wanted to install high-definition (HD) surveillance cameras to better monitor issues and emergencies on the vessel. However, one large hurdle was in the way. While other mass transit systems in New York City, such as the NYC Metro and MTA Bus lines are located on land and can make use of existing cellular infrastructure to provide connectivity for their monitoring efforts, Staten Island Ferry’s over-water route proved challenging due to the 5-mile distance traveled in New York’s Upper Bay.

Staten Island Ferry needed a secure and reliable solution that would deliver broadband connectivity for its 25-minute, 5.2 mile (8.4 kilometer) crossing from Whitehall Ferry Terminal located at Whitehall and State Street in Lower Manhattan to the St. George Ferry Terminal in St. George, Staten Island, and allow for crystal clear video and communication links on the vessel for operators at the shore-based command center.
They needed a solution that would host all of their communications and data needs, while also providing a high-bandwidth, wireless network that was proven for its long-distance, resilient operation over water.

Solution:
Johnson Controls was assigned as the single point of responsibility to manage the planning, installation, integration, commissioning and service of the technology systems, consisting of a wireless network, IP cameras and a video management system. The complex project was required to meet Federal regulations and a strict time line. Along with their partner BATS Wireless, Johnson Controls was able to deliver the solution, on-budget and on-time while working through the challenges of inclement weather.

BATS Wireless provided its industry-leading antenna tracking and stabilization solution for Staten Island Ferry’s Whitehall to St. George deployment. This solution enabled a broadband link that was able to meet and exceed the bandwidth requirements for the ferry route. This solution allowed for each vessel in Staten Island Ferry’s route to automatically switch from the terminal network at Whitehall, to the terminal network at St. George in under a second, allowing the operator to utilize one single high-mounted antenna system for each vessel. This solution greatly reduced both cost and complexity for the vessel’s wireless network, and provided the operators with a rugged, proven solution for critical communications.

BATS’ shore-based Point-to-Multipoint (PMP) network was placed at high points on each terminal, while one FAST 5.8 GHz antenna was placed in a single high point on the vessel. The FAST system was key, because its solid-state design eliminated the risk of service interruptions due to mechanical failures or system breakdowns as seen on previous solutions. The FAST provided a step-up in the efficiency of the 360° continuous positioner, allowing the system to regularly track and optimize highly critical broadband connections through its electronically steerable antenna. Both shore-based antennas as well as the vessel-mounted FAST were powered by RADWIN 5000 MIMO radios.

Staten Island Ferry’s transit network was configured for continuous link tracking and advanced network switching, which would enable the antenna tracking system to travel from one port to another while moving along the route, enabling seamless intelligent system hand off - key for maintaining the critical link for the entirety of the route and eliminating any live video dropouts.

Together, the FAST system and advanced network switching solution notably achieved and exceeded the desired throughput for the ferry route, providing Staten Island Ferry with a compelling tool - a 65 Mbps wireless link that was capable of delivering uninterrupted HD-quality video so that operators can better assist patrons riding their vessels.

“With Johnson Controls serving as the single point of responsibility for technology, systems and service for the project, we relied on them to partner with industry leaders to get the job done,” said Margaret Gordon, Executive Director of Safety and Security. “Along with BATS Wireless, they delivered the experience, expertise and innovative solution needed to create the connected environment required on our vessels.”

“We’ve worked hand-in-hand with the team at Johnson Controls to deliver a resilient wireless network to the Staten Island Ferry for their critical communications efforts,” says Phillip Cramer, E.V.P. Business Development & Marketing, BATS. “This deployment opens new opportunities and provides new tools for the team at the Ferry to better serve their patrons.”

Following the successful deployment and configuration of the FAST antenna system aboard one of the vessels in the fleet, the Staten Island Ferry is now upgrading other vessels to enable uninterrupted HD video coverage for the entirety of its fleet.

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