Archive for Subway Cell Service

The iPhone reigns supreme underground. (Via Transit Wireless)

The iPhone reigns supreme underground. (Via Transit Wireless)

While waiting for the Q train at Times Square on Wednesday night, I pulled out my phone and hopped on the station’s free wireless network. I could have used Verizon’s LTE service three flights underground, but the wireless seems faster and doesn’t whittle away at my data plan. After a few minutes, the train pulled in, and I wrapped up my emails and Tweets.

For New Yorkers, an underground wireless network and subway cell service is a new development. After fits and starts, the MTA and Transit Wireless has gotten the latest program off the ground, and with service in place at around 40 stations, within the next handful of years, all 277 underground will enjoy the luxury of subway cell service. Wiring the tunnels is a long way off, but things are moving apace.

Yesterday, Transit Wireless offered more details on its Phase 2 rollout. While more Manhattan stations will enjoy the service, Phase 2 is newsworthy because it hops a river. Most of the stations in the next round are in Queens. The next base station will be locating in Queens, and officials trumped the next phase.

“Hundreds of millions of new annual subway patrons will soon receive the benefits of having all the major wireless carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Wi-Fi service in underground stations – including Queens,” William A. Bayne Jr., CEO of Transit Wireless said. “We are not only extending our network to all underground stations in Queens and additional stations in Manhattan; we are setting the stage for future innovations that will provide riders with an enhanced experience in the New York City subway system.”

I don’t have the full list of Queens stations, but Transit Wireless notes that Phase 2 will encompass 11 midtown subway stops, including Herald Square and Grand Central, and 29 Queens stations. The next full set of 40 will be online by June, but eagle-eyed observers will note that some of the Phase 2 stations such as Bryant Park are already wired. “The MTA’s firm commitment to bringing our transit system into the 21st Century continues to bear fruit with new technology that will improve our customers’ daily commutes,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement. “Providing cell phone and data connectivity to our Queens customers is the latest step in keeping everyone connected and bringing a new level of security with the ability to dial 911 in an emergency.”

Meanwhile, Transit Wireless has released a new infographic detailing usage in 2013. While only 40 stations were online, the company saw 2.6 million Wifi connections and transmitted over 60 terabytes of data. iPhones were the top device, and a plurality of users were, unsurprisingly, between the ages of 25-34. Only 8 percent of users were 55 or over — which explains why that generation is so skeptical of the utility of BusTime as well. Times Square and Columbus Circle were the most popular stations of the 36 measured.

Ultimately, the expansion of wifi is a great development for the city. It makes waiting for trains more tolerable and allows passengers to get more information about train service while inside the system. The phone calls haven’t been disruptive, and outside of a few isolated texting incidents, straphangers have remained focused on their surroundings. The tunnels should be wired too, but that seems to be a project for a different time. Make of that what you will.

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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Astute straphangers with Verizon cell service may have noticed an underground signal in around 35 stations over the past few months. I first noticed the bars popping up in Times Square two or three months ago after Transit Wireless announced an August agreement with Verizon. This week, the service became officially official as Transit Wireless announced Verizon service in 35 underground subway stations throughout Manhattan.

Verizon’s voice and 3G and 4G LTE service are available at the 40 Phase 1 stations announced last April, and Transit Wireless has brought Verizon service to five stations that will be part of the upcoming Phase 2 rollout as well. These five stations — which are really three station complexes — include all of Herald Square, both the IND and IRT platforms at Bryant Park, and 28th St. on the 6.

A Transit Wireless spokesman should be issuing additional news within the next few weeks, and based upon their CEO’s statement this week, I can only assume it’ll focus on Phase 2 of the multi-tiered rollout of underground cell service. “The build-out of the Transit Wireless network continues to progress on schedule, as we add additional carriers like Verizon Wireless and begin work on Phase Two of the project to bring service to 40 additional stations, including Grand Central Station in Manhattan, as well as all underground stations throughout Queens,” William A. Bayne Jr., CEO of Transit Wireless said. “Our network not only provides an important security improvement to riders, but also serves as the backbone for future innovations throughout the subway system.”

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For years, we’ve heard about plans to bring cell service to the New York City subway system, and after false starts and empty promises, only recently has a rather slow expansion of service begun to creep throughout the underground stations. Still, the system is not without flaws as the supposedly free wifi often isn’t free, and the service works about as often as it doesn’t. That won’t stop the MTA from expanding it, but should we applaud the effort or sigh exasperatedly at it?

As Transit Wireless works to expand cell service to more underground stations in the coming months, the MTA has its sights set on something bigger. In yet another effort to attract Millennials — who already take the subway because they’re not buying cars — the agency has long-range plans to equip its subway tunnels with cellular service. It’s not clear when this will happen, how much it will cost or who will pay, but it’s on the radar. MTA CEO and Chair Tom Prendergast said as much at a Citizens Budget Commission breakfast yesterday, and Matt Flegenheimer of The Times was on hand for his comments:

At a forum on Tuesday, the authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, said that transit officials hoped to add Wi-Fi and possibly cellphone reception aboard moving trains — in what appeared to be the first public acknowledgment that the authority’s ambitions for wireless service went beyond stations.

Mr. Prendergast said the push for expanded Wi-Fi and cellphone access was a reaction, in part, to the demands of the growing population of young riders. “It is one of the features that the X’ers and the Y’ers and the millennials consider an expectation or an entitlement, not a luxury,” Mr. Prendergast said at the gathering, which was hosted by the Citizens Budget Commission…

The authority is also seeking to install Wi-Fi on the Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road, issuing a request for proposals for a firm to provide service both on trains and inside stations. A spokesman said the authority was currently negotiating with a potential vendor. Service aboard subway trains was a logical evolution, Mr. Prendergast suggested. “Every time you provide Wi-Fi to a greater degree, they want to go to the next level,” he said. “That would be the next frontier. Exactly when, can’t say.”

Matt’s article goes on to discuss the pluses and minuses of underground cell service. It’s a debate I’ve analyzed before and one that I think is overblown as it tends to forget that millions of riders on the elevated and at-grade sections of the subway deal with this reality on a daily basis. Most riders are respectful cell users, and loud, obnoxious conversations aren’t the norm even if they are the stereotype. But that’s neither here nor there.

Rather, let’s talk about this idea of New York exceptionalism. Should we applaud the MTA for admitting that they want to install some sort of connectivity in between stations? Or should we wonder what is taking so long? There are subway systems that have had this feature for over a decade, and cell service in that regard isn’t the only deficiency. Countdown clocks, contactless fare payment systems, affordable construction costs — they’re all part of the same idea. It didn’t happen first in New York, and so it must be impossible or exceedingly painful for it to happen in New York.

I know the excuses. The New York City subway system is too big; it operates all the time; it’s too old; it wasn’t built for these technologies. But they’re just excuses. At some point, we have to ask why these things take so long to arrive in New York. Is it because we’re still catching up on decades of neglect? Is it because it’s a fight to fund state-of-good-repair programs, let alone necessary capital enhancements? These aren’t easy questions to answer, but they are ones that should be asked. Subway cell service — and a contactless fare payment system — shouldn’t, in 2013, be some far-off promise.

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When Transit Wireless and the MTA announced expanded cell service at 30 additional stations in late April, the press conference included word that the two remaining major carriers — Sprint and Verizon Wireless — would soon be on board. Sprint wrapped its deal a month ago, and today, Transit Wireless announced that Verizon has come to terms too.

“We are extremely pleased to gain Verizon’s participation in our wireless network in the New York City subway system, facilitating high quality voice and data services in the underground,” William A. Bayne Jr., CEO of Transit Wireless, said in a statement. “We have now secured partnerships with all four major wireless carriers to bring the vast majority of New Yorkers, visitors, government agency personnel, transit employees, contractors and first responders the ability to be connected in the stations we’ve constructed – a real milestone.”

The carrier will bring its 3G and 4G LTE voice and data services to Transit Wireless’ in-station network in the subway system. Verizon will begin installation of their equipment soon, and Verizon Wireless customers — like me! — should see service in the 36 stations currently online later this year. The 40 Phase 2 stations set for early-2014 activation will include Verizon services. Welcome to the future.

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A screenshot of my phone captured recently at Times Square.

A screenshot of my phone captured recently at Times Square.

When the MTA and Transit Wireless gathered to debut their expansion of underground cell service and free wifi, I thought things went off pretty smoothly. Following the April launch, I used the system regularly, and while having to authenticate through the 15-second pre-roll ad at each station became annoying, the service was speedy and reliable. And then I went on vacation.

For 10 days in late June and early July, I was out of town, and upon my return, the free wifi was anything but. Instead of a preroll ad, I was greeted with the screenshot you see at right. Boingo was trying to convince me to pony up some money for the service, and I had assumed that Transit Wireless had lost a sponsor. I asked the MTA about the service, and a spokesman said it still should be free. I, however, have had no luck connecting in the three weeks I’ve been back in the city. I’m curious to hear if others are having the same problem.

Of course, for most people, this isn’t a big problem. AT&T and T-Mobile are already providing cellular and data service underground, and the wifi was a bonus. It allows users to avoid chewing up data and is speedier than the cell networks’ services, but it’s a luxury. Eventually, all four major carriers will offer their high-speed services underground, and as of today, in fact, we’re just waiting on Verizon.

As The Wall Street Journal reported this morning, Sprint has come to terms with Transit Wireless, and the carrier’s signal will soon be snaking its way into subway stations. Those with Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile can look forward to a signal at the 36 current stations in early 2014, and Transit Wireless will now include those carriers as it expands its offerings to another 40 stations throughout the first part of 2014.

I’m with Verizon, and there’s still no word of when this telecom and Transit Wireless will reach a deal. So for now, I’m stuck with a service trying to charge me and no other underground wifi access. The future — free Internet while waiting for a train — was so fleeting and so wonderful. I hope it comes back again soon.

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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A sign in the 14th St. station announced new cell service last year. (Photo via Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram)

Whenever the MTA’s and Transit Wireless’ ambitious but slow plan to wire underground subway stations hits the news, a wave of articles bemoaning the intrusion of the connected realm into the sacred space of the subways hits the wires. It’s such a Manhattan-centric way of looking at the way New Yorkers use and ride the subways, and yet, when the MTA gathered cell phone big wigs and agency higher-ups last week in Times Square, the coverage that followed focused on this element but with a seemingly more nuanced twist this time.

In The Times, Matt Flegenheimer spoke to a cross section of New Yorkers about subway cell service. Many applauded the initiative, but a few scoffed at it. “If you don’t get reception, that gives you peace of mind,” Leo Bruce of Queens said at 18th St. “I don’t like being bothered sometimes,” one Yonkers woman who responded to a text message anyway said.

Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities tried to find the reasons why cell conversations are so bothersome. We want to hear both sides of the conversation, and the one-sided nature of cell snippets truly seems to grind our gears. He explains,”Researchers found that people who overheard a cell phone conversation unwittingly remembered more words from it, compared to a two-person discussion they also overheard. The results, according to the researchers, suggest that ‘people are more attentive to cell phone conversations than two-sided conversations.’”

We’re more attentive because we want to fill in the gaps. We want to know what that person is talking about, and we can’t eavesdrop in the background if our mind is unwittingly racing to fill in the blanks. It’s not just annoying because it’s added sound in an already-noisy environment; it’s annoying because it’s only part of a conversation within earshot.

But it’s not a new phenomenon in New York City. Just because cell service has arrived in crowded subway stations doesn’t mean the same thing hasn’t been going on for the better part of the last two decades. While a majority of New York City subway stations are indeed underground, a significant minority of stations are above ground or at grade, and those stations have enjoyed cell service since essentially the dawn of the technology in New York. Ride a B train crossing the Manhattan Bridge and straphangers whip out their phones. “I’m crossing the bridge. I’ll be home in 15 minutes,” filters through the car. We laugh; we roll our eyes; we try not to get annoyed.

Now and then, of course, someone with no concept of a public space gets a call, and that’s when the huffing and puffing beings. Loud conversations in small spaces — open-air stations, Times Square — aren’t any fun no matter the location, but it doesn’t take underground service to drive that point home. It takes one long wait at a station in Astoria and the wrong person nearby on the platform.

Ultimately, I find the annoyances of rare improper conversations worth the convenience. After all, subway platforms are a bit of a liminal space within the city. Ideally, we spend no more than 10 minutes on these platforms per day, and yet social norms and social interactions take on a heightened importance. What happens while we wait for the subway seems more important than what happens throughout the rest of the day. But for those fleeting minutes, I’ll take the connectivity and live with the consequences.

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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These 36 stations are now fully equipped with cell and WiFi service. (Photo via Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram)

Services from all four major cell phone carriers will soon be available underground, and 30 new stations are now cell and WiFi equipped, Transit Wireless and the MTA announced today. With this unveiling, a total of 36 underground subway stations are now wired, and another 40 will join them by the end of the first quarter in 2014.

During a press conference this morning at Times Square — one of the newly equipped stations — and in a subsequent press release, agency and cell provider officials stressed how this wireless access can be a boost to subway safety and help New Yorkers remain plugged in while on the go. “This goes beyond providing cell service underground. It brings our customers a new level of security –with the ability to dial 911 in an emergency,” said Governor Cuomo. “Customers now know that when they see something, they can now say something using their device to call 911. And now with all the major carriers on board, the vast majority of MTA customers will have the ability to do so.”

Echoing an AT&T official who noted “tremendous demand for wireless services underground,” the CEO of Transit Wireless touted the technological advances as well. “The New York City subway system is one of the most heavily trafficked systems in the world and now riders have wireless service,” William A. Bayne Jr. said. “This network benefits not only riders, but city workers and first responders, and it will be the backbone for future technology and safety improvements to the city’s subway stations.”

For a few years now, AT&T and T-Mobile had been available at the Phase 1 stations, but today, Verizon and Sprint announced that they too would be offering cellular LTE service underground at all 36 stations currently equipped. Furthermore, Boingo, a public WiFi provider, revealed its free, ad-supporter network as well. HTC is the current sponsor, and WiFi Internet access is now free following a 15-second video ad. For smartphone and tablet users waiting for a train, the digital connection is a welcome distraction.

For now, the full list of stations — shown above — all focus around Midtown, but that will change over the next year. The Phase 3 rollout, which will wrap by the end of the first quarter of 2014, will include Grand Central, Bryant Park, Herald Square, Flushing-Main St. and numerous other Queens stations. MTA Executive Director Tom Prendergast explained that the roll-out had been chosen based on both passenger volume and ease of installation, and the 36 stations currently with service see an average of 7 million riders per year.

During the press conference, Transit Wireless and MTA officials stressed the costs as well. Transit Wireless is picking up the full cost of installation, estimated between $200-$250 million, and the MTA is paying nothing. In fact, the agency will realize increased revenue through a split of the occupancy fees paid by the wireless carriers and sublicense fees. The MTA estimates around $3.3 million annually once all 277 underground stations are wired.

After the jump, a full list of all stations currently with cellular and wireless Internet service. Read More→

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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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.

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A brief update on an ongoing project: After unveiling the next group of stations set for underground cell service nearly a year ago, Transit Wireless says the first set of these stations should start coming online next month. According to an an update on DNAInfo, Transit Wireless and the MTA will bring the service to Upper West Stations along the IND and IRT lines from 59th to 96th Sts. by the end of December with some stations receiving service as early as October. Along with Times Squares and Rockefeller Center, this group of stations is considered phase one of a seven-phase project.

While waiting for the subway at 14th St. recently, I had a few spare minutes and started playing around with the WiFi offerings. That the service was free over the summer was an added bonus, and although the signal is stronger at various points along the platform, it seemed pretty reliable when I was online.

The free WiFi is supposed to end tomorrow, and while Transit Wireless was working toward anther sponsor earlier this summer, they have yet to announce it. Furthermore, only AT&T and T-Mobile customers can use the cell network. Despite these limitations, it’s still a great improvement for New Yorkers who yearn to be plugged in as they while away the minutes until the next train arrives.

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In late September, we had the opportunity to sneak a peek at the partial list of underground stations that will be receiving cell service in 2012. At the time, Transit Wireless vowed to have this group of stations within the next 12 months, but the finer details remained obscured.

Now, we learn a bit more, courtesy of Ted Mann and The Wall Street Journal. According to Transit Wireless, the firm will wire 30 more stations this year, most in Midtown Manhattan, and the first will come online in late July or early August. The company expects to activate the service in five or six stations at a time.

“Bringing wireless service into our underground subway system reinforces the MTA’s effort to use technology to improve customer convenience that allows them to stay in touch with friends, relatives and business contacts,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz, said to Journal. “And by having access to real-time service status updates while underground, riders can better navigate the system.”

With a series of stations in Chelsea currently enjoying service from AT&T and T-Mobile, Transit Wireless is working to sign up Verizon and Sprint as well. So far, fears of the demise of civility underground that preceded the launch of the cell service pilot have been unfounded. As the service expands throughout Manhattan, though, usage will likely grow and grow and grow.

After the jump, the full list of stations set to enjoy cell service before 2012 ends. Read More→

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