Mobile coverage on the Tube back on the agenda

Operators in talks with Mayor of London and TfL...

Operators in talks with Mayor of London and TfL...

The prospect of mobile phone coverage being extended to the London Underground has been resurrected.

At present Londoners can only make calls when trains are on overground portions of the Tube network, with no mobile coverage available in tunnels. However the Mayor of London's Office has confirmed Boris Johnson is in talks with Transport for London (TfL) and operators about extending mobile coverage to Underground tunnels and stations.

A Greater London Authority spokesperson said: "TfL and the Mayor of London are currently in discussion with mobile phone operators and other suppliers about the potential provision of mobile phone services on the deep Tube network."

Tube train: Mobile coverage could go Underground

Mobile phone coverage could be coming to the London Underground
(Photo credit: Annie Mole via Flickr.com under the following Creative Commons licence)

While there are no technical barriers to extending mobile coverage to the Underground, the cost of providing a signal in deep level tunnels and stations has so far proved prohibitively high.

TfL tendered for a trial of mobile technology to take place on the Underground back in 2007 but the pilot never got off the ground - a TfL spokeswoman said at the time that none of the proposals it received from operators were commercially credible.

Cost continues to be a hurdle for any potential rollout - which would have to be funded entirely by the private sector, according to the GLA.

"Given the current pressures on TfL's budgets any solution would need to be funded through mobile operators with no cost to fare or taxpayers," the spokesperson added.

A report in the Sunday Telegraph claimed the Mayor is aiming for mobile coverage to arrive in time for the 2012 London Olympic games - and the former government's Digital Britain report previously flagged up the lack of connectivity on the Tube network as a notable digital gap ahead of the Games.

However the GLA spokesperson would not confirm any specific timetable for a Tube rollout, saying only: "Discussions are ongoing."

A Vodafone UK spokesman told silicon.com that discussions have been taking place between mobile operators and the GLA for some time.

Guy Laurence, CEO of the operator, added in a statement: "We approached the Mayor's office about a year ago and have been a catalyst in getting the project off the ground together with the other operators."

"There are a number of technical and funding issues still outstanding but there are regular meetings ongoing to resolve these and we are very hopeful there will be a successful outcome."

O2 UK also confirmed the operator is involved in talks. "We are working closely with other operators and infrastructure partners to explore all avenues and ensure that any deployment offers the best possible customer experience," a spokesperson said.

Orange UK had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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