A blog on the use of technology at home and at work (and some other stuff)

Mobiles on the tube

I blogged yesterday about how useful it would be to be able to read RSS feeds when out of coverage on the London Underground. I’m hoping that a Google Gears-enabled version of Google Reader Mobile is not far away.

That reminded me of the stories that have been in the press for some time about mobile phone reception being introduced into the London Underground tunnel network. On the one hand, the tube is a haven of tranquility away from the endless interruptions that a mobile phone brings. On the other, there would be a huge upside to being able to use time on the Underground productively – maybe reading news on a mobile browser or answering emails – or being able to get in touch with people above ground when the network grinds to a halt.

So, I fired up Google to see what is happening, and whether or when we might ever have mobile phone reception underground.

BBC News first reported on this topic in November 1999, with the somewhat premature claim that “In a worrying move for many commuters, mobile phones could soon be ringing on the London Underground”, but it was OK because we would be able to vote on whether we wanted it or not.

It all goes quiet for five years, and then, in March 2004, the Register and BBC News report that London Underground is in talks with the four mobile operators.

In March 2005, London Underground publishes a notice in the Supplement of the Official Journal of the European Union (which is where all large government tenders must be published) which states that the organisation is “primarily interested in the possibility of extending mobile coverage to Underground stations, station concourses, passenger walkways, platforms and other ‘off-train’ areas that do not currently have coverage (approx 120 stations), however LUL may, in the future, also consider extending coverage to other areas, such as trains and train tunnels”. They also leave themselves open to offers including high speed data services and technologies such as WiFi, WiMAX, DAB and DVB.

At the same time, Ken Livingstone announces that we’d all be able to use our mobile phones and digital radios on Underground stations by 2008, with a trial at one station due in 2006. I can’t find any further reference to an in-station trial, so it’s not clear if it ever happend.

In May 2005, a TfL press release states that interest in the notice was strong: “over 60 organisations have formally expressed interest in providing mobile phone and new technology services on Tube stations from mid-2008”.

In April 2006, the BBC reports that London Underground is pressing ahead with plans to have mobile phone transmitters in the tube. This is against concerns that they might increase the risk of terrorism (phones sometimes being used to detenate bombs).

In March 2007, a TfL press release announces a trial to take place on the Waterloo and City Line in 2008 and the BBC is reporting that mobile phone coverage would not be extended across the Tube network until at least mid-2009.

Since then, nothing. I wonder if that trial on the Waterloo & City is on its way?

Photo: Nuakin on Flickr. Used under licence.


Comment from Rob Fenwick
Time: May 17, 2008, 22:37

Mobile signal on the Waterloo & City underground platform at Waterloo is excellent, but the line itself definitely isn’t switched on yet.

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