Coming even sooner: Wireless undergound


The MTA’s never-ending plans to bring wi-fi and cell phone service underground may soon be coming to a head. According to a PC Magazine report, the first stations to enjoy — or suffer through — cell signals may be outfitted before the year is out. Of course, international cities and even those a few hundred miles south will have long surpassed New York’s drive for not-so-cutting edge technology, but progress is progress nonetheless.

Sara Yin of the tech mag had a few scant details to report:

AT&T and T-Mobile customers will be the first to receive wireless Internet at select Manhattan subway stations as part of a pilot program launching late this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) said.

Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the MTA, said contractor Transit Wireless will launch a pilot program “in the backend of this year” providing wireless connectivity at the five subway stations along the 14th Street corridor. These include: 14th and Broadway, 14th and Sixth Avenue, 14th and Eighth Avenue, 14th and Third Avenue, and 14th and First Avenue.

“We’ll give them an additional four years after that to outfit the rest of the system, assuming all goes well with the pilot,” Ortiz added.

For those who have watched this story progress since late 2007, this his hardly breaking news. Those stations — actually six because PC Magazine omitted the 23rd St. stop — have long been on the initial list of those slated for the cell service pilot. What is promising however is the MTA’s insistence that Transit Wireless will have to “outfit the rest of the system” before 2015 is over. Part of me wants to say that I’ll believe it when I see it, but right now, the countdown clocks are more of a reality than I ever expected them to be.

As this project moves forward, the debate will of course center around personal space and overall quiet vs. the cacophony of cell conversations. In Brooklyn, a few stops from my local station, the B and Q trains head aboveground, and cell phones are the norm. Usually, the conversations are quiet and respectful, but as I learned two weeks ago while waiting at Queensboro Plaza, those around you can have obnoxiously loud conversations at an elevated subway stop. For millions of New Yorkers who never venture to the open-air areas of the system, cell service underground will be a new experience.

Of course, as New York lumbers forward with what will optimistically be an eight-year plan to bring cell service underground, London expects that its Tube customers will be “checking their emails” by 2012. In a release published last week, Transport for London announced that it is soliciting bids from telecom providers who would wire the system’s 120 systems for wireless access in advance of next year’s Summer Olympics. Their system is older than ours and deeper, and yet, I’d imagine they’ll have cellular access underground before we do. Need I say more?

Categories : Subway Cell Service

10 Responses to “Coming even sooner: Wireless undergound”

  1. Russell says:

    Any idea when Verizon will install cell sites in subway stations?

  2. Scott E says:

    This article (the one your post links to, and as a result, your article as well) seems to confuse cellular with WiFi. I had originally thought this was only for cellular use; which is, in effect, easier for a neutral host such as Transit Wireless to install than WiFi. (I can get into the details if someone wants). There are also operational issues with WiFi: who is the service provider? Is it free? Is there a subscription model?

    The PCMag article also says that: “If you’re wondering why wireless Internet will only cover stations, and not tunnels, it’s not for security reasons, as many publications have previously reported. ‘It’s too expensive for tunnels,’ Ortiz said.”. Expensive, yes, but I’m not sure I agree with this statement. A few years ago when this idea was first floated, AT&T wasn’t interested in the stations only — they said it’s not worth the investment unless they could cover the tunnels and allow sustained conversations/data sessions. But, alas, times change.

  3. Al D says:

    Scott E asked 1 of my questions, about wi-fi via cell service, 2 entirely different things. What is being installed? And if it’s wi-fi, then aren’t there inherent capacity limitations? For example, at an Apple conference a few years back and at technology conferences in general, the simultaneous volume of so many users bring down wi-fi. And then wouldn’t that be the case at the ridiculously crowded Union Sq station for example? Just on the L platform, there are so many iPhones and other smartphones in use at once.

    • JP says:

      And if it’s phones, when can I start telling people to keep their voices down when they’re using “outside voice” inside?

  4. tacony palmyra says:

    It took me a minute to picture “14th and Broadway.” Such a disorienting way to describe Union Square.

  5. Yanir Maidenberg says:

    I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that if the 2012 Olympics were to occur in NYC, we would have had the head start over London’s UG. The reason I think so is that it seems to me the state and the city would have pumped in more money to make NYC more aesthetic to the oncoming masses.

    • Cool Beanz says:

      I also think the 7 extension would have been completed sooner. Without putting fire under people’s feet, these projects linger on forever. Look at the Trade Center construction. It didn’t get moving until the 10 year anniversary loomed close and forced them to have something to show.

  6. John Paul N. says:

    Call the L train lucky. First with countdown clocks, and now going to be first in deep underground wireless service. Hopefully, upgrades, when needed, will not be so painful to install (physically and budget-wise) compared to the original installation.

  7. pete says:

    Wasington DC Metro has had Verizon-only cell service for 2 decades now (exclusive agreement I believe). It was so strange to me to listen to internet radio on a smartphone on a subway car underground when I was there. I dont remember myself having any complaints over other people using phones inappropriately.

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