AT&T, T-Mobile sign on for underground cell service


With MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder pushing hard for technological innovation underground, Transit Wireless renewed its attempts at bringing cell and wifi service to the subway system. The company’s three-year old plan had fallen by the wayside struggled to secure financial backing. When the money came in, so too did the cell companies.

As Business Week reported late last week, AT&T and T-Mobile have signed on to offer their service in the subways. The two cell companies have reportedly inked ten-year deals with Transit Wireless, and the deals can be renewed four times for five years each. As Michael Grynbaum reports, the service should be ready to go in six stations around 14th St. by the end of 2011, and Transit Wireless will have the entire underground part of the subway system cell-ready by the end of 2015.

While this project is well behind Transit Wireless’ initial launch date, that carriers are serious about it is a very good sign. As Walder said to The Times, “Phone carriers signing on is further proof that this project is a reality.” No longer will the subways be the last bastion of relief from cell signals, and in a few years, we’ll find out if constant access brings with a panacea or a prison in this hyper-connecte city of ours.

17 Responses to “AT&T, T-Mobile sign on for underground cell service”

  1. Think twice says:

    Now comes the great opportunity to provide real-time service change alerts to riders as well as real-time arrival times. Countdown clocks and screeching loudspeaker announcements may become an anachronism sooner than we know. If this all works out that is.

  2. Andrew says:

    No Verizon or Sprint?

    • Not yet. They’re still in negotiation. I’ll probably have an update on this on Tuesday because it sounds as though this is further along than Business Week reported.

      • Jason B says:

        Hopefully they will get it sorted out. If it’s only AT&T and T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint won’t even be able to roam as they use different technologies.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Why can’t they just build the infrastructure and then charge the carriers a fee to use it?

    • Because the infrastructure companies are a little hesitant to spend millions before having a commitment from the carriers.

      • Alon Levy says:

        The MTA could front the money.

        • Sharon says:

          NO thanks. That will give the installation company no incentive to install it quickly or at all.

          Let the private sector do it’s magic and let the mta spend it’s money on where it is needed, providing transportation and high pay for low skilled cleaners

          • Alon Levy says:

            Much of the overspending in New York comes from an insistence on outsourcing everything. Consultants charge more than in-house staff, and have no incentive to cut costs, since their loyalty is not to the MTA. Operationally inefficient, union-choked public agencies are perfectly capable of constructing things for reasonable cost, for example RATP. While the MTA is incompetent, this incompetence in part comes from the shedding of all in-house expertise on infrastructure. Where in-house expertise has been retained, and where the MTA puts an effort into keeping costs down, the budgets are reasonable: the R160 order was actually cheaper than most comparable train orders in peer first-world cities.

  4. Al D says:

    Great. I can’t wait to have a pointless Face Time call with my fellow iPhone 4 owner standing next to me on a jammed packed, sweltering, 125 degree Union Sq platform, and then again on the sardine canned 4 or 5. Oh, the sheer joy and pleasure!

    What’s that? The security conscience want to have cell service in case of emergency? C’mon, even assuming that the cell towers have their own power supply in an actual emergency where there is no power, will there really be enough bandwidth to accommodate the thousands of calls that would be going on at the same time?

    And lastly, speaking of cell towers, what about the radiation emitted from these things? Will my brain be fried if my train is delayed and I am standing next to one of these things for 30 minutes? And then being constantly exposed to radiation for the length of my commute? What about the transit workers relentless exposure to these things?

    All this just to send a few pointless text messages while underground.

    Oy vey…

    • I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again. That’s a very Manhattan-centric view of things. Nearly half of the subway system is above ground where the MTA doesn’t have to do a single thing to make sure cell service is provided to travelers. It hasn’t created mass panic or a cacophony of phone conversations, has it?

      • Al D says:

        But you’ve really not addressed anything in my original post except to stereotype because I mentioned a busy station in Manhattan, and you know the dynamic and ‘physical plant’ on trackage not in a tunnel is different.

        • I can’t see a situation in which thousands of calls are happening at once, and I don’t see how noise will be an issue. Subway stations aren’t conducive to long phone calls, and while one or two people might have to or try to squawk away, I think you’re overstating the negative impact.

          As for the radiation, it’s not going to be any worse than what you suffer walking around the city today. There are cell transmitters literally everywhere now.

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