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4G goes live on the London Underground

The first trials to bring 4G to the London Underground transport system are now live, offering connectivity to commuters travelling between Westminster and Canning Town stations.

As one of the most significant ‘not spots’ in the UK, the trial will bring 4G connectivity to seven station ticketing areas, corridors, platforms and tunnels between Westminster and Canning Town stations. London Bridge and Waterloo, two of the busiest stations in the city, will only have signal on the Jubilee line platforms.

“Poor mobile connectivity is a major barrier to growth so I’m delighted that Tube passengers on the eastern section of the Jubilee line will be able to enjoy 4G access,” said Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor for Transport. “This milestone will enable Londoners and visitors to get online while travelling through tunnels and platforms, doing everything from watching videos and messaging friends to catching up on emails.”

What remains to be seen is the impact coronavirus has on the trials and deployment plans for the rest of the Underground. Speaking to Transport for London (TfL), the team is suggesting trials and the deployment plan is progressing as planned, though this is difficult to believe. The immediate trials are unlikely to be affected, though with the restrictions being placed on the country there is almost certainly going to be some sort of impact.

That said, it might be positive. With demands on the subterranean transport system lessened thanks to more people being asked to work from home, timetables might well be altered. A normal London Underground timetable would only leave 4-5 hours a day to do work in the tunnels. TfL might well alter the timetable in the future, meaning more time might be available each evening for work to progress. It might offer an opportunity to accelerate the deployment of an underground network.

The pilot itself was developed with Capita, who sub-contracted to Nokia and Installation Technology, at a cost of £10 million. TfL is aiming to recoup the cost through contracts with the MNOs, while there seem to be plans to realise additional revenue streams though the connectivity bonanza. All four telcos will offer 4G services.

“Not only will the project bring much needed service to commuters across London – it will also mean thousands of fans travelling to The O2 for the best live entertainment events in the UK will now be able to share their experiences with friends and family, before and after a show,” said Derek McManus, COO of O2.

“We want to help people stay connected and make the most of their daily commute, enjoying their favourite shows, talking to friends or just getting a head start on the working day,” said David Dyson, CEO of Three. “Every year, the average London commuter spends two weeks on the tube travelling to and from work, so there’s a huge opportunity for us to help people reclaim that valuable time.”

“This is a big step for both connectivity, and for London,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division. “We’re looking forward to seeing how our customers use 4G on the Underground – it’s a big step forward for keeping entertained, and keeping in touch. We know how valuable that is, and this switch on aims to pave the way for a wider rollout across the Underground.”

As it stands, more than 390km of the first ‘Leaky Feeder’ antennae cabling and 60km of the second ‘Leaky Feeder’ antennae cabling has been laid, while TfL is currently working on services at 53 of the 127 London Underground stations. ‘Leaky Feeder’ cabling is a cable run along tunnels which emits and receives radio waves, functioning as an extended antenna.

With what appears to be sound progress being made, perhaps TfL’s 2025 deadline for deploying 4G across the entire network is a realistic ambition.

Updated on 18.03.2020, 11:15am, with BT/EE statement


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