The nation's largest mass transit system moved one step closer to accommodating cell-phone and Wi-Fi usage for its estimated five million daily riders this week as New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) approved the plans of a private company to set up digital access on its subway system.
But passengers won't be using iPhones on the A train anytime soon. The New York plan will take about two years to outfit the first six stations on Manhattan's east side, and another four years to expand to 277 underground stations at a rate of 10 to 15 per month. The subway has 242 miles of routes and 468 stations, including those aboveground.
The vendor is Transit Wireless, a partnership between Dianet Communications, based in Manhattan and Cranbury, N.J.; Nab Construction of College Point, N.Y.; and Q Wireless of Manhattan. The company was formed in 2007 specifically in response to the MTA's request for proposals to design, market, install and operate a system serving the underground stations in New York's five boroughs. The final plan was made possible by funding from Broadcast Australia, which oversaw the wireless system in Hong Kong.
The New York system will ultimately extend service from stations to tunnels, meaning rush-hour riders who are annoyed by delays, crowding, panhandling and unintelligible announcements will soon add gabby fellow passengers to their list of gripes.
The reported cost of the project is $200 million, plus a $46 million fee to the cash-strapped MTA over 10 years.
Several foreign subway systems, including those in Berlin, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong, have cell or Wi-Fi service or both, but in the U.S., only Washington, D.C.'s Metro system is as close as New York. A February 2009 agreement there will allow the nation's four leading carriers -- Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile -- to build a wireless infrastructure in the underground Metro system and also create a second wireless network owned by Metro for operational and public-safety communications. The plan calls for the entire system to be equipped by 2012.
No Sweat for Carriers
Keeping millions of people per day in New York phone-accessible while commuting may drive up usage minutes but won't have a substantial impact on carriers, said Michael Gartenberg of the Altimeter Group.
"I don't think it will boost time that dramatically; people already use their phones in cars and on buses," said Gartenberg. "The question is, will this create demand for quiet cars, much as it has on Amtrak, and will the commuting public insist that one of the few last remaining cell-phone-free zones stay that way?"
New York's system will be neutral, owned and operated by Transit Wireless as host to a variety of wireless carriers, but those carriers will have to pay Transit Wireless for access.
Posted: 2010-08-03 @ 3:47pm PT
Gerry Purdy of MobilTrax added this view on the subject of subway cell phone use:
"I believe that subways will be a great addition for wireless operators because this is exactly where they have some free time. It will boost wireless data consumption which will generate incremental revenue as operators migrate from unlimited to fee-for-usage models."