One thing that many mobile phone users know is that it isn’t easy (or at times even possible) to make a phone call while on a commuter or subway train, at least in the areas where the train cars are actually underground. But some cities are seeing this as a potential revenue stream, while carriers see this as a potential draw for customers.
Last week, the Chicago Transit Board approved a contract with T-Mobile Central to lease the CTA’s wireless network infrastructure on some of the city’s subway lines. The contract could draw at least $3.1 million in revenues for the CTA, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. However, T-Mobile won’t have an exclusive deal, as the board approved a similar contract with AT&T earlier this summer.
Both carriers are relying on the CTA’s enhanced two-way radio system and communications network, which was upgraded in 2005. This made it possible for the carriers to provide service through the 11.4 miles of the Red and Blue subway lines.
Other cities have also been working to provide mobile coverage, and New Yorkers may have noticed that making a call from subway stations (but not the trains while moving through the tunnels) have greatly improved. While the plan, which has been in place since 2007, was to wire all 277 of New York’s subway stations, this service is still touch and go, especially in the deeper stations. And one service that won’t work is the ability to call 911, but this is because the New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) was fearful that in an emergency too many people might call at the same time. Instead, emergencies would be left to MTA personnel.
Considering the size of the New York subway line, making calls from trains probably won’t happen anytime soon, and when you factor in that cars are filled through much of the daytime hours, it is probably a good thing as well. The cars are loud enough.
But apparently, the Chinese have another idea. Beijing’s subway Line 4, which will open later this year, will have wireless phone connectivity, through an agreement with China Mobile Beijing. This will provide a 3G TD-SCDMA signal in the public areas as well as the tunnels. This is also the final line to get the mobile treatment. Subway Line 5, which opened in 2007, is among the first fully covered line, but phone signals are available in all eight existing subway lines, allowing callers to use their phones practically anywhere in the city’s metro system. The mobile service in China isn’t limited to the capital. Last month, mobile phone carriers China Unicom and China Telecom began providing coverage in the port city of Shanghai on the subway Line 8.
And so far the idea of using mobile underground is spreading. The age of the systems isn’t necessarily the problem, but the size is – notably for lines as large as London’s Underground. This year the Transport for London (TFL) announced that it had frozen plans to offer mobile phone service. While a trial was conducted on the Waterloo and City Lines, the findings were that the deeper stations would be a problem and the costs to provide coverage would be huge. Thus carriers have backed off.