Archive for Subway Cell Service
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.
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.
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.
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.
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→
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.
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.
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→
As New Yorkers adjust to life in this new era of underground cell service, Transit Wireless is moving ahead with plans to equip the entire system within the next four years. That would allow New Yorkers — or at least those with AT&T and T-Mobile – to enjoy underground signals before Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway opens. Both of these projects are just, uh, zooming by.
Anyway, with the announcement of the six-station pilot earlier this week, Transit Wireless and the MTA said that 30-50 more Manhattan stations would be equipped with cell service within the next 12 months. Among those will be Times Square, Columbus Circle and Herald Square. Now, we learn what some of the remaining ones are. Drumroll please….
96th Street (1, 2, 3)
96th Street (B, C)
86th Street (1)
86th Street (B, C)
79th Street (1)
81 Street (B, C)
72nd Street (1, 2, 3)
72nd Street (B, C)
66th Street (1)
59th Street/Columbus Circle (1, A, C, B, D)
Fifth Avenue and 59th Street (N, R, Q)
57th Street (N, R, Q)
7th Av (E, B, D)
57th Street (F)
50th Street (C, E)
50th Street (1)
49th Street (N, R, Q)
47th-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center (B, D, F, M)
42nd Street/Times Square (1, 2, 3; A, C, E; N, R, Q)
34th Street/Herald Square (B, D, F, M; N, R, Q)
28th Street (1)
28th Street (N, R)
23rd Street (1)
23rd Street (N, R)
18th Street (1)
Unsurprisingly, these list of 25 features stations all in Manhattan and all south of 96th Street. That’s where the system’s more crowded stations are and where the call volume is likely to be highest. If implementation is successful there, it should be far easier elsewhere. I’m still working on finding the remaining 25.
And so as cell phone service begins to inch its way across the subway, I have to wonder what will happen first: underground mobile service for all or the opening of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway? Transit Wireless says they’ll win the race, but with the MTA and its adventures in technology, anything can happen.
It is a day of reckoning for New Yorkers who have long enjoyed the quietude, peacefulness and tranquility of the New York City Subway system for today is the day that the dreaded cell service reaches underground. Panic in the subways! Rude conversations! Cell rage! Cats and dogs living together! It’s the end of the world as we know it!
Okay, okay, okay. It’s not going to be that bad, but after reading news coverage of this event, you may be forgiven for thinking so. Everyone from CBS to The Wall Street Journal to The Times is reporting this story as though 200 stations and hundreds of miles of subway tracks aren’t aboveground with cell service. Clyde Haberman, tongue firmly in cheek, even called it the dying gasp of civilization. That honor, I believe, belongs to people who don’t know how to use the volume controls on their iPods, but I digress.
The news is, well, not new. Since 2007, the MTA and Transit Wireless has tried to equip six stations in Chelsea and along 14th Street with cell service, and after stops and starts, the pilot officially went live today at the following stations:
- A, C, E station at Eighth Avenue and West 14th Street;
- L station at Eighth Avenue and West 14th Street;
- C, E station at Eighth Avenue and West 23rd Street;
- 1, 2, 3 station at Seventh Avenue and West 14th Street;
- F, M station at Sixth Avenue and West 14th Street;
- L station at Sixth Avenue and West 14th Street.
The signal, while not strong in the tunnel, reportedly can span stations. Jamie Shupak from NY1 said she had full bars to 34th Street during her ride today.
Transit Wireless had originally said that the pilot would go live in mid-2012, and the MTA praised the company for exceeding expectations. “Bringing wireless service into our subway system is the latest milestone in the MTA’s effort to use technology to improve the service we provide for our customers,” \MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder said. “Whether you’re checking your email, calling your kids or looking for emergency assistance, wireless service will bring the conveniences we’re used to throughout our lives into the subway system.”
Moving forward, Transit Wireless is aiming to provide service in the remaining 271 underground stations before 2015 is out. The next 30 stations — including Times Square Herald Square and Columbus Circle — will be along the west side of Manhattan, mostly in Midtown, and they should be cell-ready within the next 12 months.
Using fiber nodes and a signal delivery system, Transit Wireless is now providing AT&T and T-Mobile service underground. It is a neutral host, though, and hopes to sign up the remaining wireless carriers soon. Currently, the company and carriers are paying 100 percent of the costs of the project, and that total covers the Transit forces that provide flagging, protection and support services. The MTA will split occupancy fee revenues and sub-licenses. “Transit Wireless has created a win-win-win scenario in the New York City subway system,” Transit Wireless CEO William A. Bayne Jr. said. “Commuters have improved access to communication; the MTA realizes additional revenue and the wireless carriers can provide added value to their customers.”
From a ridership perspective, that’s all good news. The MTA makes money while straphangers now have access to data services and cell capabilities underground. That commute won’t be dead time that may hinder productivity. The news media though has tried to turn this into some apocalypse of rudeness. “I’m planning to be more annoyed on the subway,” Chris Wancura said to The Journal.
Others echoed that complaint. “There was always something about transportation – planes, trains, subways – that no one could get in touch with you. And that was a relief,” Abby Stokes bemoaned. “Now they can.”
From quotes to headlines that suggested cell service is only now arriving in the subway, the coverage looked very Manhattan-centric this week. As a native of the island who now lives in Brooklyn, I’ve seen this battle between the so-called City and so-called Outer Boroughs unfold frequently and from both sides. With transportation policy and improvement stories, though, it creates a problematic dichotomy.
In parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, cell service has long been a part of the commute. Take the 7 to Flushing and folks are on the phones the entire way. Journey to Coney Island, and cell phone patter is just another sound. Some people hate it; some people tune it out. By and large though, most talkers are polite enough to hold conversations at a respectable volume. The world has not ended as cell phones have invaded.
But now it’s come to Manhattan, the purview of newspapers and journalists who don’t need to cross a river. This type of coverage creates a very us-versus-them atmosphere. It’s why newspapers give only perfunctory coverage of poor intra-borough, non-Manhattan transits options. It’s why people scoff at the pipe dream of a TriboroRX line and why the G train is looked down upon by those who do not ride it very frequently. No one is championing these causes in the pages of the paper that matter because for these papers, it’s about Manhattan first and everything else second. The cohesion of a transit network that spans five boroughs is often missing from that news coverage.
Perhaps I’m being too sensitive. Perhaps reporters are just writing what their readers want to hear. Perhaps cell coverage underground — something that seemed technologically impossible for years — is just that much of a novelty. But now that people on the other end of the phone from those in the subway in Manhattan can hear them now, how about the rest of us?