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New BAI Group CEO plans to become top neutral host provider for MNOs

Igor Leprince has been BAI Communications’ Group CEO for a little more than a month, but that has not stopped him from laying out big plans for the company. Within the next five years Leprince wants BAI to become a leading 5G neutral host infrastructure provider for mobile network operators (MNOs) in major cities that are developing this tech for industries needing high-speed networks.

Currently, BAI provides cellular coverage through 3G and 4G shared infrastructure and Wi-Fi for commuters traveling underground in cities like New York, Toronto, and Hong Kong. Leprince plans to use BAI’s technical and operational expertise in designing and managing major cities’ transit communications networks to develop new 5G outdoor neutral host services.

“Transit is a very important part of our 5G neutral host strategy, but we also see opportunities beyond transit,” Leprince told Connected Real Estate Magazine. “I clearly see the U.S. as one of the hottest places in terms of opportunities for deployment. The U.S. is obviously a big and important market, but it’s also a very advanced market when it comes to 5G.”

BAI will look to drive coverage and technology, including 5G, in all parts of commuter transport, including how data can be used to support transit agencies.

How BAI can help building owners, too

BAI’s expertise in dense underground environments serves as an opportunity for the company to deliver above ground communications infrastructure as well. Given that BAI’s network is, or will be, right below streetscape owned by both local governments and private owners, it only makes sense for the company to also offer its services above ground. Not surprisingly, the BAI Communications group and its majority-owned company in the US, Transit Wireless, already have above ground outdoor coverage offerings in their business plans.

“A majority of our work during the last few years has been focused on the transit sector in cities such as Hong Kong, Toronto, and New York,” Leprince said. “We are very proud of that, but part of the strategy we’re putting together is to expand to other 5G opportunities. We are using 5G to bring additional growth, scale, and sustainability to the business.”

Leprince noted BAI Communications can design, install and operate 5G neutral host equipment on streets, telephone or utility poles, and traffic lights, and – most importantly – is also willing to commit its own capital to fund these projects in all the markets where it operates.

“It’s all about us moving towards neutral host leadership,” he said. “Especially in this period of global transition to 5G—but also because of the transformation that 5G can bring to transport and other verticals in general. We have a clear vision and the ambition to be a major contributor to the 5G outdoor neutral host ecosystem. We are clearly focused on transport, but also on dense urban environments and the U.S. is one of the best places to be in both respects.”

BAI’s expansion plan

There’s no question BAI has the assets, the engineering expertise and the resources to become a top 5G neutral host infrastructure provider. The next step for the company is to demonstrate asset value so that BAI can branch out to urban areas beyond New York. In order to do that, the company will have to ask some key questions first; such as, what more can it do with its assets, how can it propose solutions to the MNOs and how, in a place like New York, can BAI deal with the fact that MNOs can’t put a small cell on every individual lamppost?

“At some point there needs to be a discussion about how you share and how you access infrastructure,” Leprince said. “Fiber is everywhere, but at the same time you need to deal with the economics, especially if you want to do it on your own. For example, who is financing it and how? This is where we have experience and credibility.

“The primary focus is let’s do it where we’re strong, such as in the U.S.—I don’t think there are many cities in the world better than New York City where small cell neutral host providers are needed. Of course, we will also leverage our experience in other markets too.”

Working with major wireless carriers

When it comes to getting its assets in front of big carriers in the U.S. like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, Leprince believes knowledge is critical—understanding fiber, the vendors and operators, as well as the transit and government agencies.

“We are investing in technical and commercial capabilities to be able to do that,” Leprince said. “There’s another element to that—nobody has everything they need, right? We don’t have products—we are the product—and we are also vendor agnostic. We can therefore bring the best solution to the operators. I want to move up the value chain of these operators and not be seen as a local player, rather as an international player that can solve their problems. I think that AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all have a lot on their plates and would benefit from us doing that for them.”

BAI—five years from now

In the next few years, Leprince sees BAI’s mobile infrastructure business expanding beyond New York, Toronto, and Hong Kong, into other cities within North America or to other markets such as the U.K., Europe or Australia where it has a strong broadcasting infrastructure business.

“I see opportunity on both sides,” Leprince said. “I think the U.S. could potentially be a much bigger part of our business—it’s probably the most advanced today. We also have strong interest in Europe, and the U.K. in particular where we see huge potential to drive what we have in New York, which is underground connectivity in subway systems.

“That’s why I joined BAI—I think we have a good base to build on and excellent shareholders that back us on this journey. That’s why I’m here.”

Joe Dyton can be reached at joed@fifthgenmedia.com

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