Londoners will be able to say “I’m on the Tube” via wholesale

19m | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Canadian company BAI Communications will build a wholesale 4G and 5G network to cover London Underground stations.

Transport for London (TfL), the unit that runs the Tube and most other public transport services in Greater London, said BAI will set up base stations at tube stations including Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Euston, Bank and Camden Town, connected by 2,000 km of fiber. BAI has a 20-year concession.

TfL Chief Financial Officer Shashi Verma said: “London Underground was born in the 19th century, and this concession to provide mobile coverage to the entire metro network ensures that it continues to adapt to customers in the 21st century. century. “

While financial and contractual details have yet to be released, the service will likely be available to all mobile carriers, including EE, Three, Vodafone and the new Virgin Media O2.

Metro stations have had limited connectivity in recent years: just Wi-Fi provided by Virgin Media, before its merger with O2 UK. This means that the London Underground service lags far behind that of many other urban transport services around the world, with major cities like Barcelona, ​​Hong Kong, Paris, Stockholm and Washington DC providing network coverage to their traveling customers.

New 4G and 5G services will cover halls, platforms and tunnels as the network is built over the next three years, with all stations and tunnels expected to have mobile coverage by the end of this year. 2024.

TfL operates 270 stations, but many of these are located above ground in the suburbs of London and are covered by the mobile operators’ own base stations.

Verma said: “Providing mobile connectivity to customers in tunnels and on platforms across London will help them stay connected more easily, and will both provide a long-term source of income for TfL and support economic growth. in all the city.”

BAI Communications, which won the London contract in a competitive bidding process, already provides mobile coverage in Canada for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway network. The company has designed and operates communications systems for the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) metro. And it owns a controlling stake in Transit Wireless, which operates Wi-Fi and cellular coverage in the New York subway.

Billy D’Arcy, a former O2 executive who is now CEO of BAI Communications UK, said: “By building the most advanced network of its kind in the world here, we are helping London to overtake other major cities in terms of connectivity and we ensure that the capital remains the most attractive place for investment. Over the life of this concession, we plan to invest over £ 1 billion in the Connected London program. “

He said the network would also have Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. “We will also establish a new high-capacity, city-wide fiber optic network across London and leverage the power of 5G and the Internet of Things to unlock new opportunities for technological innovation. “

The company has already installed mobiles on the last stretches of the underground network, including the extension of the Jubilee Line to east and south-east London, which was opened in 1999 and is being built with much more space than the original deep underground tunnels of this date. back to the 1890s and early 1900s.

In this trial, TfL and BAI installed a neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS) along the newer parts of the Jubilee line. The four UK mobile network operators participated in the trial and offered a service to their customers and to the virtual networks that operate through their services.

It was also installed on the new extension of the Northern Line, which has not yet been inaugurated, in south-west London.

BAI Communications has been majority owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments) since 2009. Earlier this year, it appointed Brendan O’Reilly of Telefónica O2 UK will become its global CTO.

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