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4G/3G/WiFi

MTA Seeks Cell Service Provider for Major NYC Subway Tunnel

Soon you will never need to be disconnected from your mobile device ever again, even when you're traveling in a subway car under New York City's East River.

That's because New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has taken its latest step in unwiring the subway system, issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) on Dec. 27 for a license to build out and operate cellular connections in the L train tunnel beneath the East River.

For the first time, this would allow passengers to use their 3G and 4G cellular or WiFi devices while traveling between stops at Bedford Street, Brooklyn and 1st Avenue, Manhattan in the L train tunnel. The current cellphone system, operated by Transit Wireless and supported by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, only operates within subway stations, not in tunnels between stations or under the East River or the Hudson.

It makes sense for the MTA to start unwiring tunnels on the L line first, which has around 250,000 riders daily traveling between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The MTA is the busiest subway system in the US, and the L line is one of the most packed lines on weekdays.

Proposals from companies that would license space to build connectivity in the L Line tunnel are due on January 13, according to the MTA.

Light Reading has asked both Boingo and Transit Wireless if they would respond to the RFP; neither company has responded yet. We will update the story if they do.

Boingo is already working with the MTA to roll out broadband connectivity in the Long Island Rail Road's (LIRR) tunnels under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and the tunnels the LIRR will use to access the Grand Central Terminal when the East Side Access project opens in 2022.

Transit Wireless was first awarded a 25-year contract by the MTA to deploy and maintain cellular and WiFi service across the New York subway system in 2007. The company said that it had completed rolling out cellular distributed antenna systems (DAS) and WiFi hotspots across the 279 underground NYC subway stations early in January 2017. All four major mobile carriers in the US operate on the underground network.

There's no word yet from the MTA about when cellphone service might start commercially in the L train tunnel.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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