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.