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Wednesday, 18 March 2009 05:40

London tube says no underground mobiles any time soon

You wouldn't think that getting mobile phones to work on an underground transit network would be that difficult in the 21st Century. Try telling that to Transport for London...

With London hosting the 2012 Olympic games the small matter of ensuring adequate communication systems for the UK capital is high on the technology agenda. Yet while new emergency communication systems have gone live on the London Underground, ordinary mobile phone users are not so lucky.

The Airwave emergency communications system allows the police and other members of the emergency services to be able to keep in wireless contact throughout the entire 250 mile tunnel network that is the London Underground train system.

By linking more than one hundred underground stations there are no longer the kind of gaps in coverage for emergency services which proved to be so handicapping in the aftermath of the 7th July 2005 London bombings.

Back then, emergency service personnel struggled to communicate effectively with each other as both underground trains and London buses were targeted by terrorists. The UKP £107m Airwave system went operational at the end of last year.

Unfortunately, the same ability to communicate underground will not now be extended to the general public. The Transport for London plan to bring mobile phone coverage to the Tube would appear to have gone nowhere, slowly.

This despite TfL admitting that there is a growing demand for just that coverage, especially as London wants to be seen as a technology leader as the world watches when the Olympic Games arrive in 2012. It's not the first time TfL has hit problems involving the Olympics, as we reported last year.

TfL never even got as far as running the planned underground coverage trials, and a spokesperson has now told Silicon.com that "the market has yet to provide us with a credible proposal for enabling mobile phone use on the Tube."

TfL admits it is technically possible, as indeed Glasgow knows all too well as the Scottish city already has O2 mobile phone coverage for the underground system there, but claims that the project costs are just too prohibitive at this time.

Despite being 'open' to commercial approaches, TfL has no active plans to deploy any cellular technology underground.

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