London’s underground network have made great breakthroughs for the digital passenger in the last ten years. Customers are able to make contactless payments, view real-time information, use wireless internet on most tube platforms and enjoy a smooth service across many routes to keep the country running. However, the capital’s phone usage is still limited on-board underground lines due to the lack of phone signal coverage. Therefore, it has been announced by Transport for London (TfL) and Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, that new telecoms bids will be invited to come forward after the general election to install the technology across London underground’s network and allow commuters to make calls across 100 miles of tunnels.
“We are keen to offer full mobile phone coverage for our customers. The introduction of this would need to be commercially viable and would follow engagement with staff and customers.”
It is expected that many telecoms companies will come forward after next week's general election. Three likely candidates are: BAI Communications, Wireless Infrastructure Group and maybe Arqiva. Plans to get this technology up and running is not a recent proposal, last year a ( @TfL) TfL spokesman confirmed officials were investigating how to introduce mobile coverage on the Tube, initially for the emergency services. However, the spokesman suggested that “such coverage would need to be commercially viable and would be subject to consultation.”
So why’s it taking so long?
If we compare London Underground to metros and subways in New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Berlin and Paris, they have all had the capability to use their phones on the subway for several years now. However, this is not TfL’s first attempt because previous talks with the telecoms industry have simply collapsed. However TfL have said to the Financial Times: “We are keen to offer full mobile phone coverage for our customers. The introduction of this would need to be commercially viable and would follow engagement with staff and customers.”
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Since June 2012, Virgin Media has provided Wi-Fi in the ticket halls, escalators and platforms of 137 stations. Even with phone signal, we have the capability – Vodafone, O2 and EE have built a phone network for the English side of the channel in 2014 which took only ten months to build and no trains were disrupted. It would therefore suggest that the issue is more politically loaded. The estimated cost for building a network for London Underground is £100 million. which the telecoms equipment maker Hauwei was willing to pay half of this in February 2011, but was rejected a week later.
Professor Simon Saunders, director of technology at Real Wireless, believes companies are having to deal with rising expectations. He gives his opinion why the UK is behind some countries: ‘Most underground railways worldwide have some provision for wireless services along the track. The fact that London has not yet reached this point is linked to its status as the world’s oldest underground railway, with all the associated space, safety and legacy challenges that come with that.
‘It’s certainly not easy: many miles of track in tunnels, limited space, special safety requirements and a need to build infrastructure which will last for many years and serve the needs of many operators together.’
SmartRail World will bring the latest updates from TfL as and when they arrive.
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