STE Security Innovation Awards Honorable Mention: The End of the Disconnect

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE- Innovative wireless network connects New York Waterway’s ferries for safety, security, ROI and more

After more than 25 years of providing ferry service from New York Harbor, New York Waterway was faced with this pivotal question: How do you protect a fleet of ships and thousands of passengers every year without an Internet connection? In short, company officials realized the answer was “you don’t.”

Throughout the 1800s, ferries were the only way to get to and around Manhattan. As bridges and tunnels were built, ferry transportation faded; however, in 1986, Arthur E. Imperatore and his family rejuvenated the harbor with the launch of the first NY Waterway ferry. Since then, the ferries have carried more than 65 million passengers; but, without being connected, the majority of the ferry operator’s assets and passengers remained in perpetual isolation. That meant ship captains and passengers were very limited in their communication capabilities, especially in the event of an emergency.

In order to get timely information to passengers in the event of an emergency, increase communication with the captain and gain real-time situational awareness of what’s happening in and around the ferries, a high-speed wireless connection from ship-to-shore was needed. But that task was easier said than done in the densely populated Manhattan area — where line of sight issues alone are a nightmare for planning a wide-area wireless network. The ferry operator needed a robust network coverage area that encompassed just about every waterway surrounding Manhattan, with challenges ranging from water to ice, to three major nearby airports, to the constantly changing sites lines and Fresnel zones.


Innovation Overcomes Technological Limitations

Ferries have proven to be an essential source of redundant transit capacity in times of crisis in Manhattan, such as after the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the regional blackout of August 2003. People around the world best remember the ferries from their role as first responders to the U.S. Airways “Miracle on the Hudson” plane downing in January 2009.

With the safety and security of its passengers that in mind, NY Waterway enlisted the services of Fluidmesh Networks and Pantascene, together with AAS Technologies, to help them design and deploy a state-of-the-art wide-area wireless network and security solution to help improve communication, emergency response and preparedness throughout the ferry fleet.

That the ferries were disconnected from the mainland eventually became unacceptable in terms of risk management; however, the ferry operator’s options were limited. When it comes to technology choices for wide area networks that support mobility, ferry operators have historically only had two choices: cellular or satellite — both of which could not meet NY Waterway’s complex needs. Cellular, for example, cannot come close the ferry operator’s bandwidth requirements, and they have proven unreliable during times of crisis. Satellite, on the other hand, proved to be cost-prohibitive. 

Thus, NY Waterway needed something new and innovative to get their fleet connected. This is where Fluidmesh came to the rescue, as its high-bandwidth private wireless networks products have been deployed by government and commercial organizations for security and Internet connectivity. These networks can stream high-definition security video, offer Wi-Fi Internet access and a number of other applications, and they have proven to be reliable during emergencies or large events when cellular networks tend to be overwhelmed.

But there was a catch: The private wireless networks were often limited to fixed, non-moving assets. In response to this technological challenge, Fluidmesh developed Fluidity, a system for mobile connectivity and vehicle communication. The technology can be used to provide broadband connectivity to moving vehicles such as buses, subways, trains, cars, and of course, ferries. The system delivers up to 100 Mbps of usable throughput up to 200 mph and fully supports video, voice and data. NY Waterway chose the system to create high-speed wireless networks with connectivity to all ports and ferries anywhere they operate.

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