The best laid plans of cell service providers often go awry, and nowhere has that been more evident than with Transit Wireless. The company tasked with bringing cell service to the subways has run into numerous problems over the past five years including concerns that the company didn’t have any funding and couldn’t deliver on its promises. Lately, timing has been an issue.
After rolling out a pilot in Chelsea last September, the company vowed to ramp up the roll-out of mobile-equipped stations. At first, they had hoped to bring 30 new stations online by the summer, and then, they announced a gradual roll-out from October to December. In the aftermath of Sandy, though, that date is no longer on the table.
As Ted Mann reports this morning in The Wall Street Journal, Transit Wireless is pinpointing Sandy as the cause of the latest delay. It may be a few months yet until we see cell service at these stations, and Mann has more:
In an interview, Transit Wireless CEO William Bayne Jr. said the response to superstorm Sandy had contributed to the latest delay and said he believed the new stations could be online by mid-February. “The plan was to get it all done by Dec. 31,” Bayne said. “The storm gave us a different opinion on all that.” Recovery from the storm had led the MTA to redirect some of its resources, including the teams that help support construction of the Wi-Fi antenna system, Bayne said.
Still, the area in which Transit Wireless plans its next expansion was among the areas of the subway system least affected by the storm. The new stations will be largely in Midtown West and the Upper West Side, where the subways did not see the extensive coastal flooding and signal system damage that knocked out much of the system in lower Manhattan and low-lying sections of Brooklyn and Queens.
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The relatively slow pace of the project is also a reflection of its complexity. Transit Wireless will ultimately outfit antennas to beam cell and Wi-Fi signals across some 22 million square feet of station platform space, he said. The installation work requires the company’s crews to lay ductwork from city manholes, connecting fiber-optic cables from city conduits to equipment installed inside each station. For every 40 to 50 stations, Bayne said, Transit Wireless will construct a “base station hotel” to handle system traffic.
Transit Wireless’ timetable always seemed aggressive to me as retrofitting 110-year-old subway tunnels with 21st Century technology has proven, over and over again, to be costly and time-consuming. It is unclear how this will affect the company’s goals of outfitting every underground station by the end of 2014, but for now, because of Sandy and the reallocation of resources, we’ll have to wait a few more months for cell service.