Archive for Subway Cell Service

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.

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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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?

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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In September of 2007, I wrote a short article about an impending plan to bring cell service underground. Since then, Transit Wireless, the MTA’s contractor chosen for the pilot program, failed to sign up carriers, appeared to be a bogus company, went belly-up for a few years and emerged in late 2010 with a mandate from Jay Walder along with cell carriers and a late 2011 launch date. That day may be drawing even nearer.

According to a brief report in amNew York, Transit Wireless’ subway cell service pilot will go live on Tuesday at various platforms downtown. The first stations to receive a cell signal will be along the 14th St. L train corridor as well as the A/C/E platform at 14th St. and 8th Ave., the 1/2/3 station at 14th St. and 7th Ave., the F/M stop at 14th St. and 6th Ave. and the local stop at 23rd St. and 8th Ave. Neither Transit Wireless nor the MTA have confirmed the Tuesday launch date, but they have not denied it either. Initially only T-Mobile and AT&T services will be available underground. If you’re a Verizon subscriber like me, you’re out of luck.

Transit Wireless believes it can outfit the rest of the MTA’s underground stations by 2016. The era of “can you hear me now?” and mindlessly inane cell conversations on subway platforms is drawing ever closer.

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As the MTA gears up to bring Wi-Fi service to its commuter rail trains, The Post reports today that one train car is already equipped with service, but the MTA isn’t saying which one. Annie Karni says the MTA is a running a “covert, three-month pilot program” during which one car on the New Haven Line will enjoy Wi-Fi service. The car, she reports, has “an outside antenna that receives a cellular signal from AT&T. Inside the car, a router converts cell service to Wi-Fi.”

For its part, the MTA is holding back on revealing which car it is yet because the service is, in the words of an agency spokesperson, “not ready for prime time.” All New Haven Line riders should now furiously check their laptops and smart phones for an open wireless network while heading back home.

In other Wi-Fi news, The Post says the MTA is “currently reviewing three proposals to carry Wi-Fi throughout the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road systems and to provide 32-inch digital screens in cars for advertising and real-time updates about schedules and delays.” According to this report, installing these screens could cost up to $38,000 per car, a figure which seems absurdly high. I know retrofitting older rolling stock with new technology carries significant costs, but considering the price of a digital screen, that one seems excessive to me.

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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
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A long delayed plan to bring cell service to six stations in Chelsea — and eventually the entire city — is currently ahead of schedule, DNA Info reported yesterday. Transit Wireless, the MTA contractor tasked with bringing cell signals underground, will soon begin installing fiberoptics near the various 14th St. stations on the West Side that service the L, A/C/E and 1/2/3 trains as well as the local stop at 23rd St. and 8th Ave. This six-station pilot will be the first step in a long-awaited effort to bring the 21st Century to the early 20th Century system.

These stations have been on the proverbial map for nearly three and a half years. In September of 2007, the MTA signed a deal with Transit Wireless to wire these six stations, it became clear that the company didn’t have the resources to fulfill its terms. The deal languished for nearly three years until Jay Walder vowed to get it back on track. Last July, Transit Wireless found an investor and signed up some carriers with a 2012 debut in mind.

Now, things are moving forward, and straphangers may be able to anticipate subway cell service within the next year. Of course, the millions of riders who use aboveground stations already enjoy cellular signals in the subway, but that won’t stop people from bemoaning rude callers. Will it be a a panacea or a prison?

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I’ve been sitting on this piece for about 10 days as I just haven’t found an ideal time to post it. It does make for some good weekend reading. So check out Jim Baker’s “Does wi-fi on transit attract riders?” at Mass Transit Mag. Baker explores how a few commuter rail lines — one in Santa Clara, another in Texas — the Oxford Tube bus route in London and Amtrak are judging the popularity of wi-fi offerings on board. Amtrak, for instance, says that 39 percent of Acela riders have made use of their free wi-fi, and they believe the offering will increase ridership — and thus revenue — by $4.3 million over the next five years.

I wonder though if asking about ridership is the proper question. By itself, wi-fi can draw commuters from other transit modalities and can draw customers from one bus line to another. Across greater distances (and outside of the Northeast Corridor), Amtrak isn’t competing with airlines, but it is going up against bus routes that already offer wi-fi. The key question though is one of passenger benefits. Will riders be more productive and thus more accepting of a longer commute if they’re plugged in for the duration? The answer to should be yes, and that’s why wi-fi, free or not, should drive ridership.

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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.

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Where the cell signals leak in

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As the MTA has once again renewed its vow to bring cell service and wifi underground, many have wondered if constant connectivity is truly good or if the yammering masses will slowly drive us all insane. I’ve long been of the belief that cell access on platforms only won’t lead to louder waits. The subway system isn’t a quiet and peaceful arena today, and the vast above-ground portions have long had cell service. Riders along the elevated routes haven’t become boorish on their phones.

Today, Heather Haddon and Katherine Lieb unveil the secrets of underground cell service and highlight those stations that already have cell access either from street-level grates or from nearby landmarks. Nearly four dozen of the 277 underground stations have service at some point or another. The list, available on amNew York’s website, includes 30 IRT stations, many of which aren’t very far below ground, and a handful of the oldest BMT stops along the R. Only a few IND stops have service because they were built relatively deep underground. Nevins St. in Brooklyn has long been my favorite transfer point between the East and West Side IRT lines because of its stellar cell service.

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As news of the MTA’s revived attempt to outfit its underground subway stations with cell and wifi service gains steam, the authority has released the details of its revised deal with Transit Wireless. If all goes according to plan, the city’s 277 underground stops could be fully wired within six years, and while the MTA could realize a few hundred million in revenue and New Yorkers would be able to take advantage of 21st century technology while waiting for the subway, many are wondering if this new service will create a subterranean panacea or a cell-phone prison.

When the reports surfaced that the Transit Wireless deal was back on track, the initial stories were spares on the details, but Bloomberg’s Greg Bensinger and Amy Thomson dug them up. In essence, the terms of similar to the original deal in that Transit Wireless will pay the MTA $46 million to start the project and will foot the $200 million bill for installation as well. The funding will come in part from Transit Wireless’ new partner Broadcast Australia, that company that retrofitted Hong Kong’s metro for wireless service.

Although Broadcast Australia would not reveal the extent of its financial obligations, company officials seemed optimistic that their involvement would be beneficial all around. “We’ve been scanning for opportunities like this one,” Chris Jaeger, the managing director of international business, said. “The project fits very neatly with our business aspirations.”

The original plans called for the following stations to be wired first: 23rd Street and 14th Street on the Eighth Avenue line (A/C/E), 14th Street on the Seventh Avenue line (1/2/3), 14th Street on the Sixth Avenue line (F/M), and Eighth Avenue and Sixth Avenue on the L line. According to Bloomberg News, those stations will be wired first, and the project will start within the next two months. After that, says Transit Wireless, stations “could be completed at a rate of 10 to 15 per month.” That seems wildly optimistic for an MTA technology outfit, but if these companies have the expertise, it wouldn’t be an impossible goal to meet. The company says blueprinting and surveying work is through, and since only the stations — and not the tunnels — will be wired, the work will be unobtrusive.

The next step is the toughest. As was the case back in 2007, it’s no sure thing carriers would sign up. Now, as then, the cell companies will have to make sure that the Transit Wireless fees make sense. With such widespread adoption of cell phones and the prevalence of smart phones and data-ready devices, carriers ought to jump at a chance to bring their signals underground.

So then we arrive at the controversial question: Will cell service underground bring a fresh hell to the subways or will it just be an extension of business as usual? Those who never leave parts of Manhattan south of 125th St. are growing concerned that cell service will ruin that one quiet hour a day, but the truth is that subway cell service is far from unique or new. Although the 277 underground stations — with the exception of those close enough to the surface to pick up signals — aren’t currently wired, the 191 stations above ground have always been cell-phone ready. In the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, straphangers make their phone calls, check their email and idly surf the net while killing time before the train arrives. At the underground stations lucky enough to get spotty service, the same happens. The world, as far as I know, has not ended.

Underground, in cramped quarters where sound carries, the situation may be a little different. Straphangers may grow wary of hearing each other’s conversations echo throughout the station, and the rush to get in a 20-second phone call as the train pulls into a cell-equipped station may start to drive everyone nuts. But it’s a part of moving society forward. Enough people are mindful of their conversations. Enough people will make use of their smart phones to be productive. The underground world will not end.

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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