Next level connectivity brings full 4G to London Underground
London Mayor Sadiq Khan confirmed that Transport for London (TfL) would roll out 4G coverage across the entire underground network by 2024. Connectivity will cover platforms and trains and follows a successful trial on the Jubilee Line. The trial saw TfL install a neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS) supported by fibre optic cable laid throughout the tunnel system. Once fully implemented, more than 2,000km of cables will have been installed throughout the network.
The pilot lasted 24 months and allowed the big four UK operators - EE, Three, Vodafone and O2 - to provide a full service for their mobile customers. Passengers could make calls, check travel info and browse social media without interruption. Corridors and ticket halls also offered coverage to travellers. However, Vodafone has dropped its underground service in the last few weeks.
TfL has now agreed full deployment. The concession has been awarded to BAI Communications (BAI), a global mobile infrastructure provider, for the next 20 years. The busiest stations on the network will be the first to benefit, including Tottenham Court Road, Bank and Camden Town, which will be in service by the end of 2022.
Sadiq Khan said he was delighted to bring full internet access to the London Underground network and hoped that the investment and deployment in connectivity and digital infrastructure would protect jobs and stimulate the economy.
Street Hub 2.0
The announcement follows BT's decision to deploy its Street Hub 2.0 across the city to provide extra connectivity at street level. The new public hubs will deploy high-speed WiFi, 4G and 5G to create easy to use public high-speed broadband with speeds of up to 1GB for users within 150m. This will also improve coverage and capacity for local businesses and residents as well as visitors.
Local businesses can also benefit from access to Global's accessible digital advertising solution. This is designed to help businesses improve brand awareness post-pandemic. Meanwhile local authorities will be given 5% of screen time on each hub to promote services and public information. Tourists and locals alike will benefit from the ability to deliver connectivity above and below street level.
Shashi Verma, the chief technology officer at TfL, said the London Underground network had been born in the 19th century but would now adapt to meet the needs of the 21st century traveller.
It will take some time for TfL to deploy WiFi across the entirety of London Underground because of the constraints of working around the demands of a busy network to minimise disruption. Initial costs for operators are expected to be high to reflect the costs of deployment in such a difficult situation. Vodafone has already dropped its underground service. Currently customers can pay for a special pass to access Virgin's underground station WiFi.
However, providing mobile connectivity within tunnels and across the platforms will elevate the service, allowing commuters and tourists to connect more easily. In turn, this will provide a long-term revenue stream for TfL and support the economic life of the city. Once deployed, the new network should be a win-win for everyone.