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Wi-fi in Tube stations in time for Olympics?

TfL calls for tenders for wi-fi coverage at up to 120 London Underground stations...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

TfL calls for tenders for wi-fi coverage at up to 120 London Underground stations...

Tube wi-fi: TfL puts out a tender for wi-fi station coverage

TfL has put out a call for tenders to expand wi-fi coverage to up to 120 London Underground stationsPhoto: Annie Mole

Wi-fi coverage could be coming to scores of London Underground stations in time for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Transport for London (TfL) has put out a call for tender to extend wi-fi coverage to up to 120 stations on the London Underground Tube network by mid-2012. TfL said it will award the contract to the chosen bidder by the end of this year - so wi-fi services could be up and running in Tube stations by June 2012.

The call for tenders covers wi-fi access anywhere in stations - including platforms and ticket halls, and also potentially street-level locations such as bus shelters and bus hubs - but it does not extend to Tube trains or tunnels.

TfL said it is in discussions with mobile operators and other suppliers about "the potential provision of mobile phone services on the deep Tube network" - reiterating its position that the costs of such coverage must be met entirely by the network providers, rather than TfL passengers or the taxpayer.

Earlier this year, a report suggested TfL was close to securing a deal to extend mobile phone coverage to Tube trains and tunnels in time for the London Olympics. TfL invited tenders for testing mobile coverage on the deep Tube in 2007 but failed to receive any commercially "credible" bids, so shelved the plans at that time. "Discussions are ongoing," TfL said in a statement.

TfL said the first phase of the expanded wi-fi station rollout will open up to the public the staff wi-fi networks that are in use at 16 London Underground stations. Work will then begin to push out a wi-fi service to other stations on the Underground network.

The wi-fi call for tenders follows a "successful" six-month trial of wi-fi at Charing Cross station, which kicked off in November last year. The trial consisted of a BT Openzone wi-fi service covering Charing Cross ticket hall and the Bakerloo and Northern Line platforms. The trial is ongoing and will continue until later this year.

Passenger response to the Charing Cross trial has been "enthusiastic", according to TfL. Many passengers surveyed at the station said they also wanted to see wi-fi services expanded to more stations, and more than half felt wi-fi access would make their experience of using the Tube better, TfL's research found.

In addition to being a useful feature for passengers, TfL said wi-fi services are a potential future revenue source for London Underground.

Commenting on TfL's latest invitation to tender, an Orange spokesperson said in a statement: "The mobile phone companies remain in discussions to explore mobile phone services for the London Underground in time for the Olympics."

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