Wireless on the tube

Anybody using Rummble or Foursquare to find out about London is liable to come across one constraint in using mobile services once here; there’s no mobile phone reception in tunnels while travelling on the tube.  On several occasions I’ve seen people on the phone standing just at the bottom of the long escalator at Angel station: any closer to the platforms and they wouldn’t get a signal.

Over the years there have been a number of plans to provide mobile phone reception on the tube, but none of them have come to fruition.  However BT is running an experimental trial of wifi at Charing Cross Station .  Given the extent to which the same devices can use both mobile phone networks and wireless networks, this raises the intriguing thought that London Underground might skip the stage of providing GSM phone reception, and just focus on providing wifi instead.

As I understand it, providing mobile phone reception on the tube network wouldn’t be technically difficult; it would require use of a ‘leaky feeder’ which is a well-established technologyand indeed is already used on the tube for radio communication with drivers.  But the cost of doing it on the scale necessary to provide a useful service would be considerable, and I suspect that many Londoners rather like the fact that the tube is a place where people can’t use their phones.

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