Recently announced by the MTA, 30 subway stations will now be equipped with wifi and cellphone service for T-Mobile and AT&T users (sorry Sprint and Verizon users, they’re still stubborn), as part of a test run by wireless solutions company Transit Wireless. The new installations are only the first step of a long process, says Transit Wireless, who are paying for the entirety of the test phase, estimated at a $200 million. The company must prove the viability of the wireless networks in the subway system before the MTA signs on, which is made difficult by the complexity of station and tunnel designs.
So far, cellular service has been successful, and many have been surprised by receiving calls and texts their train pulls into a station. Wifi connectivity on platforms remains free, thanks to a sponsorship from HTC, but the next step is wiring the trains and tunnels.
Transit Wireless maintains the long term goal of wiring all 277 subway stops and 209 miles of track. To do so, they would need to set up antennas at the mouth of each tunnel powerful enough to shoot radio waves through to the next station. The biggest challenge then remains providing smooth hand offs between the underground and above ground networks.
The MTA is stressing the point of increased safety and faster emergency response while underground. However, many worry the inevitable increase in chatter will end the city’s last sanctuary of unwired seclusion, possibly the last place in the city that forces New Yorkers to disconnect. It remains to be seen if a sense of etiquette will develop around cell phone usage on the subway, like it has on the Metro Rail and buses, where cellular use is rarely an issues. Still, while silent, the subway is no longer a safe haven from above ground email onslaughts and text messages. It will no longer be the place in the city where there is little more to do than read a book or sit and contemplate.