It was in September last year that we first brought news of Boris Johnsons’ plans to introduce mobile coverage to the underground in time for the London 2012 Olympics, and in fact it was just last week that we saw a hostile reception from Londoners to the idea of introducing Wifi in the same areas.
However it has been announced by the companies actually involved – Transport for London and mobile operators including O2, Vodafone, Everything Everywhere (Orange and T-Mobile),Three Mobile and the French engineering company Thales – that the plans will not be going ahead and the project has been abandoned due to issues regarding the complexity of the project (given the limited time) and also the cost implications.
The concerns regarding cost seem to have been originating from the mobile networks who were unsurprisingly not very happy with the Mayor’s plans to force them to foot the bill, and although Huawei who are a Chinese network equipment supplier were going to donate £50m of equipment as a gift from one Olympic nation to another, the network operators were still going to have to pay for the installation of the 3G network which was expected to run into tens of millions of pounds.
This will be a major disappointment not only to the Mayor (who it has to admit doesn’t look all that good after this) but also the hundreds of thousands of commuters that could have benefited from this, not to mention the thousands of people who will inevitably get lost on the tube in July of next year!
Many cynics will see this as an example of Britain still failing to keep up with the changing technology and will point to cities across the world (including our close national and Olympic rival Paris) who have such systems installed with very few problems.
However City Hall have been very quick to cover their back and have said that although they are disappointed with the decision the project remains a “long term goal” with a spokesman for Johnson himself saying:
“We are grateful to the companies who explored the possibility of getting full mobile coverage on the tube, although disappointed the genuine problems encountered could not be overcome on this occasion. It remains a long-term goal, but our efforts meanwhile will be focused on guaranteeing a major expansion of Wi-Fi coverage in tube stations in time for the Olympics.
We are proceeding with great energy and haste to deliver that improvement, which will mean Londoners can then use their mobile devices to pick up their emails or access the internet while passing through our stations.”
This brings me nicely onto my final point that although many may not benefit in the way they would of from the abandoning of this project the powers that be are still pushing to introduce WiFi into 120 stations before the games go ahead next year which should go some way to filling the gap between what we have at the moment and what these plans could have brought to commuters. We will have to wait and see for more developments on these plans (such as whether it will/how much it will cost, and which areas will be prioritised), but hopefully this is an example that could be spread to the local transportation networks across the country.
Would you still like to be able to use your mobile phone on the “Tube” underground system? Or would having a bunch of people talking on their phones in a crowded, cramp space just make the experience worse?