Today, March 18th, sees the start of a long-promised trial of 4G mobile services along part of the London Underground. TfL said the service will be available on the platforms and tunnels of a section of the Jubilee line between Westminster and Canning Town. London Bridge and Waterloo stations will follow later in the year.
The latest attempt to eliminate what has been dubbed the UK’s largest “not-spot” comes as a result of a 2015 initiative put forward by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. At the time the plan called for 4G by 2019. In 2017, Transport for London (TfL) opened bidding to build the infrastructure for the service, but since then the project has been beset by technical delays as the prospect of cabling London’s narrow, ageing, curving tunnels and connecting Tube trains has proven harder than first thought.
London's Underground network currently offers WiFi provided by Virgin Media at over 260 stations, but this is only available to customers of certain carriers. 79 London Overground stations are served by The Cloud (Sky). The new 4G system should allow anyone with a connected device to access the internet, although the four biggest UK phone network operators are still in discussion with TfL about accessing the infrastructure. It is not clear if WiFi as well as 4G will be made available on the tube trains.
Apparently the initial rollout on the eastern half of the Jubilee line will “shortly” be followed by the next stage of procurement for a primary supplier, which then aims to make 4G services “available across the rest of the network” by the mid-2020s. TfL has already been busy preparing for all of this by installing hundreds of miles of new fibre optic cabling across their network.
Shashi Verma, Chief Technology Officer at TfL, said, “The London Underground network is an incredibly challenging environment in which to deliver technological improvements, but we are now well on the path to delivering mobile connectivity within our stations and tunnels. We have begun the complex work to allow our customers to be able to get phone reception within our tunnels from March 2020, with more stations and lines coming online during the coming years.”
The London Underground system carries some 5 million passengers a day and in order to cover the entire network it is estimated that more than 2,000km of cabling will be needed in tunnels and stations. Space and time to fit these cables and the required aerials are both very limited.
TfL has already shortlisted four bidders who will be invited to tender for the concession and if all goes to plan then the final contract could be awarded this summer.
The four bidders who will be invited to tender for the concession are:
Axia SC Consortium
Cellnex UK Ltd
Wireless Infrastructure Group
TfL has been working with the quartet over the past few months to give them a sense of the complexities of working within the 150 year-old Underground system.
The network will also provide the Underground with coverage for the Home Office’s Emergency Services Network, which is intended to replace the Airwave system used by the UK’s police forces, fire brigades and emergency response teams.
Three years ago, TfL conducted a pilot scheme which saw it install fibre and 4G technology in the tunnels running between Bank and Waterloo Underground stations, on the Waterloo and City Line.
The four major UK mobile network operators Vodafone, O2, Three and EE all took part in the trial. According to TfL the trial also gave engineers the opportunity to practise laying new fibre cables within stations and tunnels.
TfL says it chose the eastern half of the Jubilee line partly because it is so busy – allowing TfL and the bidders to check that the technology actually works at a demanding capacity. Another reason is that Canning Town station, which allows passengers to change from an above ground station to an underground station and TfL wants to check this transition works without flaws.
On-train WiFi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’s WiFi on Trains Conference 2020 on the 27th and 28th of October (New Dates).
For more information on the conference please see www.Traincomms.com and for more detailed country-by-country data on how the market for on-train WiFi services is developing please see www.Internet4Trains.com or contact Mandy.Cale@BWCS.com.