Cell service in the New York City subway has become something of a afterthought around town. Every two years or so, the story pops up in the news, and the MTA claims cell service underground is “coming soon.”
In fact, 18 months ago, the MTA signed a contract to start rolling out cellular service to every underground station. The pilot program was originally supposed to be ready two years after that. I wonder if we’ll actually see cell service in six months or so. Anyone want to bet on it?
Meanwhile, down in DC, where the cavernous Metro is, at some places, hundreds of feet deeper than the New York City subways, cell service for Verizon customers has been a fact of life for DC riders since the WMATA and Verizon started developing a system back in 1993. This collaborative effort between the transit agency and a cell carrier led to a Verizon-built and -owned network, and the WMATA got a free underground radio system out of the deal.
Yesterday, Metro announced that the entire system would be covered by all major U.S. cell carriers and Wi-Fi service by 2012. New York will have to play catch-up soon. Dr. Gridlock of The Washington Post reports:
Twenty of the busiest underground stations will have expanded cell phone service by the end of this year, and the entire rail system will be equipped by 2012, Metro said in an announcement this afternoon…
Four companies — Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile — will build a new wireless infrastructure in the underground rail system during the next four years, the announcement said. The companies will design, build, operate, maintain and own one wireless network. They also will build a second wireless network, which Metro will own, operate and maintain for its operational and public safety communications…
The wireless contract will generate a minimum of nearly $25 million during the initial 15-year term and an additional $27 million during the five, two-year renewal terms, Metro said. Other FCC licensed and unlicensed carriers can gain access to the networks either through entering into agreements with Metro or the group of carriers, all of which will produce additional revenue for the transit agency.
Thus, the obvious question: If the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority can enter into such a favorable deal, why can’t the Metropolitan Transportation Authority?
I understand that New York City’s system is far more extensive and significantly older than D.C.’s Metro. It’s also much closer to the surface and, to my amateur eye, would seem to be far more conducive to underground cellular service than a system that features stations 160 feet below ground.
While the MTA struggles to find money to cover operating expenses, the transit agency has to keep an eye out to the future. It has to be able to maintain New York’s competitive edge in a cutthroat global economy. Inevitably, that means equipping the city with a state-of-the-art transportation system. If DC can do it, so could New York.