London underground passengers would be able to use their phone in tunnels between the stations, starting form the next year. The rollout will start with half of the Jubilee line between Westminster and Canning Town stations on March 2020, and the plan is to have the entire network connected by the middle of the next decade. In addition to 4G, the system will also allow passengers to connect using 2G and 3G.
Transport for London confirmed this news to The Guardian. This major step raises the prospect of commuters making and receiving phone calls while packed into typically largely chat-free tube carriages. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has also said that in future this 45 connection would be upgraded to 5G, it will help Londoners and visitors keep in touch and get the latest travel information while on the go.
Mobile phone coverage has always been a problem in many subways system around the world for several years, with some cities such as Moscow offering commuters both wifi and mobile phone connections. Even the channel tunnel has a 4G signal but until now London commuters have had to rely on the wifi system available only in stations, resulting in a rush to log on at the moment a train pulls into the platform.
Installing the equipment needed to provide a cellular signal would be a challenge. Transport for London estimates that over 2,000 km (or 1,200 miles) of cabling will need to be installed as part of the project. London would not be the first city to install cellular data connections in an underground subway network. For instance, Passengers on Moscow and Tokyo subway system have been able to use their phones underground for years. However, The Guardian notes that London’s subway system is particularly challenging and difficult because of its comparatively narrow and winding tunnels, which can block phone signals.
Moreover, Transport of London plans to use what are known as leaky feeders to overcome this problem, they will use cables to broadcast signals like giant ariels. The system will allow phone signals to penetrate along the length of the transport network’s tunnels. Presently, the only connectivity available underground is Wi-Fi in the stations themselves. New York City’s subway has offered Wi-Fi and cellular connections in stations only since 2017.
Also, UK’s four mobile phone network is still in negotiations about accessing the new equipment in London’s tube tunnels, TfL expects that customer demand will ensure they all provide services on the move. Other similar schemes are being considered on the UK’s underground rail networks. Merseyrail is installing a wifi network in its Liverpool tunnels, and the Glasgow Subway is experimenting with 5G services.