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London Underground network goes fully mobile

TfL hands 20-year concession to comms company to provide what is claimed to be most advanced network of its kind on the Tube, helping to remove one of the UK’s most high-profile mobile ‘not-spots’

The mayor of London has confirmed that passengers on the London Underground will be able to access full mobile connectivity and internet access within every station and tunnel through a deal with 4G and 5G connected infrastructure provider BAI Communications.

Run by Transport for London (TfL), the London Underground network is one of the world’s largest underground networks and before the pandemic was used by more than five million passengers a day. Once fully delivered, more than 2,000km of cabling will be installed within tunnels and stations, all of which will be fitted outside of operational hours.

As well as benefiting customers, providing 4G on the Tube network will generate additional revenue for TfL as well as helping operational teams by providing better connectivity while underground.

Uninterrupted 4G mobile coverage has already been introduced on the eastern half of the Jubilee Line and the new 20-year contract will see BAI create a backbone of mobile and digital connectivity across London. It will see connectivity expanded in phases to ticket halls, platforms and tunnels on the Tube network over the next three years, with all stations and tunnels due to have mobile coverage by the end of 2024.

TfL says this will allow customers to check the latest travel information, keep on top of their emails and the latest news, catch up on social media, watch videos or make calls throughout their journeys.

The high-speed mobile coverage will be delivered across London Underground alongside a new full-fibre network running alongside Tube tunnels which will also be used to provide full-fibre connectivity across the city, connecting to buildings and street assets such as street lighting and bus stops.

BAI said this will help to further increase mobile coverage through small mobile transmitters, as well as use 5G communications to deliver city-wide improvements and future growth. The new high-capacity network will also bring fibre directly into London’s neighbourhoods, creating new opportunities to serve homes and businesses with gigabit-capable speeds and supporting digital inclusion.

To help reduce future disruption, TfL has already begun installing the necessary cabling within a number of stations and tunnels to lessen the need for additional closures and ensure mobile connectivity can be introduced more easily. This includes cabling already installed on the Jubilee and Victoria lines, as well as within the Northern Line Extension.

Work will now begin to prepare some of London’s busiest stations for mobile connectivity, including Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Bank, Euston and Camden Town, ahead of them being some of the first to be connected by the end of 2022.

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BAI said the agreement will build on its “significant” experience of deploying communications networks in highly dense urban environments across the world, including New York, Toronto and Hong Kong. Also, the neutral host network being delivered as part of this concession will be the most advanced network of its kind in the world and available for use by all mobile operators, it said. The infrastructure will also be 5G ready, allowing for a seamless upgrade for mobile operators in the future.

“Our long-term partnership with TfL will completely transform the passenger experience, as well as helping to boost London’s economy and providing social benefits for years to come,” said Billy D’Arcy, BAI Communications’ UK CEO. “By building the most advanced network of its kind in the world here, we are helping London leapfrog other major cities in terms of connectivity and ensure that the capital remains the most attractive place for investment.

“Across the length of this concession, we fully anticipate investing in excess of £1bn across the Connected London programme. We will also establish a new city-wide high-capacity fibre network throughout London and leverage the power of 5G and the internet of things to unlock new opportunities for technological innovation.

“Our extensive credentials delivering large-scale connected infrastructure and networking solutions position us perfectly to capitalise on the fast-growing commercial appeal of 5G enterprise solutions and smart city applications.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I promised Londoners that if they re-elected me for a second term as mayor, I would deliver 4G throughout the Tube network. It’s already up and running on the eastern half of the Jubilee Line and I’m delighted to announced today that I am fulfilling that commitment and full internet access will be available across the Tube, with key central London stations such as Oxford Circus and Euston set to benefit before the end of next year.

“Protecting jobs and stimulating our city’s economy is a top priority for me as London rebuilds after this pandemic, and investing in London’s connectivity and digital infrastructure is central to this.”

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