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Three and EE throw weight behind London Underground 4G project

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UK Operators Three and EE have teamed up with infrastructure firm BAI Communications to pipe in 4G and later 5G to commuters on the tube.

The deal is for 4G and ‘5G ready’ connectivity, and the two operators will work with BAI, which was awarded a 20 year concession by Transport for London to deliver mobile connectivity to the tube earlier this year.

Apparently all mobile operators will be able to access the London Underground wifi, as well as BAI’s neutral host mobile network (which can also be made available to the Emergency Services Network).

Since taking the contract in June, BAI says it has begun work on building out the equipment at Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Bank, Euston and Camden Town, which it implies will be done by 2022. All stations and tunnels across the Tube network are due to have 4G coverage by the end of 2024.

As well as hooking up 4G and making it ready for 5G upgrades, it seems there will also be more wifi connectivity within stations, and wifi within the tunnels will be introduced later in 2022. Presumably this is mainly for people that want to get some serious work done on the tube and bust out the laptop, rather than for connecting to a smartphone, since the whole thrust of the announcement is that 4G and 5G will soon be ubiquitous underground.

Adjacently, BAI has plans for more smart city stuff, and it ‘anticipates’ investing more than £1 billion across something called Connected London, which includes a full-fibre network connected to buildings, traffic lights, and lampposts in order to ‘leverage the power of 5G and the Internet of Things.’

“I’m delighted to see Three and EE sign up as the first operators to provide full high-speed 4G access across the Tube network. This will make a huge difference to passengers, allowing them to make calls, read emails and check travel information while on the move,” said Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London.

“Investing in London’s connectivity and digital infrastructure is one important way we are helping to stimulate our city’s economy. It also represents a significant step towards ensuring the whole tube network has 5G-ready mobile coverage.”

Billy D’Arcy, CEO of BAI Communications UK added: “We’re pleased to welcome Three and EE as our launch partners and the first operators who will be transforming customer experience on the London Underground by enabling them to access seamless, 5G-ready connectivity.

“This is an important next step on the project’s journey which will allow passengers to move around the capital more smartly, safely, and securely. More broadly, the new backbone of connectivity will create a platform for innovation and allow London’s residents and businesses to harness smart city technology, helping to improve urban life and boost the economy.”

It’s all spoken about in quite lofty terms, and far be it from us to throw shade on technological progress, but it seems like the prospect of posting a selfie from the Northern Line has been banded around for many, many years now. 4G is in practically every corner of the island by this point, and 5G is well on the way. It all feels a bit late to be dressed up as cutting edge.

But even if you do happen to relish the idea of eliminating the last 20 minute window of the day you are not online – the announcement will probably feel a bit hollow given its timing. Barely anyone is commuting at the moment, as the country anxiously awaits to see if new government measures will prohibit them popping next door, let alone travel across London.

UPDATE – 12:10, 21/12/21 – We received the following statement from Vodafone after publication: “We’re excited about bringing 4G to the London Underground after the successful trials of the last few years – negotiations have progressed well, and we expect to sign up with BAI next month.”


One comment

  1. Avatar Mike Ferris 21/12/2021 @ 3:15 pm

    Yes, it all feels a bit late in the day with 4G being practically ubiquitous everywhere else, and we can’t travel very freely at the moment, but don’t underestimate the magnitude of the progress here. This has been many many years in the offing, and an immense frustration to commuters. Finally we should see London commuter connectivity move into the 21st Century.

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