No fading out: Wi-Fi coming to all subway tunnels, says MTA

When train leaves station, riders often lose connection

July 26, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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How many times have readers called someone at an underground subway station, only to have the caller on the other end fade out as the train leaves the station and travels further into the tunnel?

Well, this will change — according to the MTA.

On Tuesday, the MTA announced a public-private partnership to provide cellphone coverage throughout all 418 track miles of subway tunnels, along with an expansion of Wi-Fi service to all 191 above-ground subway and 21 Staten Island Railway stations.

Transit customers currently enjoy cellular and Wi-Fi service at all 281 underground subway stations through Transit Wireless, a BAI Communications Company. The proposed expansion would transform the subway system into a fully digitally connected transit network that gives riders the ability to use their mobile devices throughout the entire subway system.

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“Bringing cell connectivity to the tunnels between stations and Wi-Fi to above-ground stations is a major step forward in enhancing transit riders’ experience,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “And the deal MTA has landed will also help the MTA’s bottom line – a major concern as the pandemic winds down.”

“We live in a digitally connected world and serve a city that is always on the go,” said NYC Transit President Richard Davey. “Having uninterrupted network connection underground will reimagine how New Yorkers travel by providing the opportunity to take advantage of every minute of their commute with cell service and internet connection.”

Janno Lieber, MTA chair and CEO, speaks at a Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce event. Eagle file photo by Jaime DeJesus

All underground stations currently have cell service and Wi-Fi. The proposed agreement would expand this to provide connectivity in the tunnels between stations and in above-ground stations. Further, it will enable Transit Wireless to improve the existing MTA communication system and generate revenue by marketing unused fiber to private customers.

Transit Wireless would design, build and operate a neutral-host network that provides every subway tunnel in the system with a wireless communication connection.

Cell service and Wi-Fi was installed in all underground subway stations in 2017, and in 2020, cellular coverage and data connectivity was installed in the L-train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. This line became the first tunnel in the New York City subway system to have full connectivity for AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile customers.

The L train’s tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan was the first in the subway system to have full connectivity. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Transit Wireless will build out the necessary infrastructure, an investment likely to be more than $600 million. The MTA will share in the revenues Transit Wireless receives from cell providers and other commercial customers, adding to the revenue from the station agreement. Further, the MTA will phase out the payments it currently makes to Transit Wireless for additional communication services such as leased fiber, real-time train arrival information and Help Points, the communication system that offers immediate access to 911

Between the increase in revenue from the extension of agreement with Transit Wireless and elimination of annual payments for additional communication services, the MTA says it will see a combined advantage worth $410 million.

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