London Underground stays in mobile dark ages

Plans to introduce mobile connectivity across the London subway network appear to have stalled due to the high costs involved.
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor
A plan to put mobile connectivity on the London Underground has stalled.

Back in March 2007, Transport for London (TfL) put out a tender for a six-month trial of mobile-phone technology on the Waterloo and City line. The aim of the trial — originally scheduled for 2008 — was to determine whether it would be technically and commercially viable for coverage to be extended across the entire Tube network.

Speaking at the time, Richard Parry, strategy and service development director of London Underground, said: "We recognize that there is now growing demand for mobile coverage to be extended to deep-level sections of the Tube."

However, two years on and no trial later the conclusion seems to be that mobiles on the Tube are not commercially viable. A TfL spokeswoman told ZDNet UK's sister site, silicon.com, that three proposals were received by the October 2007 deadline but none were considered commercially "credible".

"London Underground tendered for a trial of mobile phones on the Waterloo and City line but the market has yet to provide us with a credible proposal for enabling mobile-phone use on the Tube," she said.

The high costs associated with the tenders appear to have seen the project shelved.

"While it is technically possible to deploy mobile-phone and data-wireless solutions on the deep-level Underground tunnels and stations, the unique nature and environment of the Tube mean that project costs would be prohibitively high at this time," the spokeswoman said.

TfL is still open to commercial approaches, according to the spokeswoman, but there are currently no active plans to trial or deploy cellular technology — meaning the Underground mobile-network rollout has effectively hit the buffers.

However, mobile operator O2, which already offers cellular access on the Glasgow subway, blamed the lack of a London Underground mobile trial on the demise of Tube upgrade contractor Metronet.

Metronet went into administration in July 2007, before being taken over by TfL in May the following year.

An O2 spokesman told silicon.com: "O2 was accepted to take part in a trial on the London Underground in 2007. Unfortunately due to the demise of Metronet the trial never went very far. However, we are still in discussions with TfL regarding any possible future trials."

Earlier this year, the Airwave emergency communication system went live on the Underground — which means police and other emergency services personnel are now able to communicate wirelessly through 250 miles of Tube tunnels.

This article was originally posted on silicon.com.

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