London Underground has announced that it is planning to trial a 4G mobile phone service on the Jubilee line between Westminster and Canning Town – the section of the line between Canning Town and Stratford is overground so already has a 4G service.
The service will also cover ticket halls and corridors within stations along this section of the Jubilee line, with the exception of London Bridge and Waterloo stations which, subject to final approvals, will be added later during 2020.
Currently, some 260 London Underground stations have a free Wi-Fi service but Transport for London has been working on ways to extend that connectivity to cover passengers on trains in the Underground tunnels.
A trial was held, out of service hours, on the Waterloo & City line in 2017. This was to test the technology involved – a ‘leaky feeder’ system in the tunnels consisting of a cable fitted with line amplifiers to act as an antenna – and prove that this could be seamlessly integrated with the conventional 4G systems employed at the stations. Both Vodaphone and O2 participated in that trial.
The latest trial on the Jubilee line is intended to take those trials to the next stage. The trialling of 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services along this section of the London Underground network will allow TfL and the mobile operators to gain valuable experience of delivering mobile services on the Underground.
Following the trial, TfL intends to award a concession to deliver mobile coverage across the whole Underground network. The next stage of procurement for the concessionaire will begin shortly, with a look to award the contract by Summer 2020.
Installing cabling within tunnels and stations in advance of awarding the concession will allow TfL to manage station access better, to reduce the amount of disruption these works may cause to customers and then to permit the concessionaire to utilise the infrastructure more quickly once the final contract is awarded.
TfL has also begun discussions with mobile network operators to ensure they can access the infrastructure for the pilot so their customers can benefit when the technology goes live.
Delivering mobile connectivity within the London Underground network, which is one of the world’s largest underground networks and used by more than five million passengers a day, is extremely challenging. Once fully delivered, more than 2,000 kilometres of cabling are expected to have been installed within tunnels and stations, all of which will need to be fitted outside of operational hours.
With the Night Tube around the clock on Fridays and Saturdays, this limits the number of hours engineers can work on the project each week.
The space between the trains and the tunnel walls is also often narrow, with little room to safely install equipment, meaning that any work needs to be carefully planned and carried out to avoid potential disruption.
TfL’s chief technology officer Shashi Verma explained: “The London Underground network is an incredibly challenging environment in which to deliver technological improvements, but we are now well on the path to delivering mobile connectivity within our stations and tunnels.
“We have begun the complex work to allow our customers to be able to get phone reception within our tunnels from March 2020, with more stations and lines coming online during the coming years.”
Following the launch of the formal procurement process last summer, TfL has now shortlisted four bidders who will be invited to tender for the concession, the next stage of which will begin shortly. Those shortlisted bidders are: Axia SC Consortium, BAI Communications, Cellnex UK and Wireless Infrastructure Group.
Over the last few months, TfL has been working with the shortlisted bidders to help them understand the complexities of working within a transport network which first opened more than 150 years ago, as well as to ensure the tender documentation correctly reflects the latest opportunities for providing better connectivity on our network.
The system will also host the Home Office’s new Emergency Services Network which will replace the existing Airwave system currently used by the Police, Fire Services and emergency response teams across Britain. By aligning the projects, TfL has ensured that the latest requirements for the Emergency Services Network are fully incorporated, reducing the need for additional contracts or amendments in the future.