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London Underground 4G plan will lead to wider fibre broadband backbone

The Jubilee Line will be first Tube service to offer 4G through tunnels, and the cabling to support the service will become part of a fibre hub for London homes and businesses

Transport for London’s (TfL) plan to introduce 4G mobile services on the Tube network will become the basis for a fibre network backbone offering wider broadband connectivity in the capital.

TfL announced today that the Jubilee Line will be the first part of London Underground to provide 4G through tunnels and on platforms, from March 2020. The section between Westminster and Canning Town stations will get full mobile connectivity, alongside the existing Wi-Fi capability on station platforms.

But the project is part of a bigger ambition to extend fibre broadband services to homes and business in London that currently lack high-speed connectivity, according to Theo Blackwell, chief digital officer to the mayor of London.

“Underground mobile services will see hundreds of kilometres of fibre laid in tunnels, creating a new fibre backbone for London,” said Blackwell in a tweet.

“This backbone will also start connecting public buildings owned by TfL and local councils near Tube stations to create local fibre hubs to support last-mile fibre connectivity to homes and businesses in currently underserved neighbourhoods across London.”

Once the project is completed, more than 2,000km of cabling will have been laid through the tunnels in London’s underground network. The 4G trial will be used to gather experience of delivering mobile services, ahead of awarding a concession to deliver mobile coverage across the whole underground network in the summer of 2020.

Four companies have been shortlisted to bid for the concession: Axia SC Consortium, BAI Communications, Cellnex UK and Wireless Infrastructure Group.

Installing cabling in the Tube network is a difficult process because access to tunnels is only available outside operational hours. On some lines, the tunnels are very narrow with little space between walls and passing trains, which is a major consideration when installing equipment.

The project will also provide mobile services underground as part of the troubled Emergency Services Network programme to provide a new communications infrastructure for police, fire and ambulance services. TfL started work on the roll-out in 2017.

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Shashi Verma, chief technology officer at TfL, said: “The London Underground network is an incredibly challenging environment in which to deliver technological improvements, but we are now well on the path to delivering mobile connectivity within our stations and tunnels. We have begun the complex work to allow our customers to be able to get phone reception within our tunnels from March 2020, with more stations and lines coming online during the coming years.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan added: “Introducing 4G and, in the future, 5G will help Londoners and visitors keep in touch and get the latest travel information while on the go. London is the best place to live, visit and work – and projects like this will help make it even better.”

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