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TfL Cans Underground Mobile Phone Trials

Gordon Kelly


TfL Cans Underground Mobile Phone Trials

In March 2007 Transport for London (TfL) gave many Capital dwellers cause for cheer when it decided to trial mobile phones on The Underground. Today it smashed those hopes... at least for now.

"London Underground tendered for a trial of mobile phones on the Waterloo and City line but the market has yet to provide us with a credible proposal for enabling mobile phone use on the Tube," said a TfL spokeswoman bringing us about as much joy as a 'signal failure' announcement. "While it is technically possible to deploy mobile phone and data wireless solutions on the deep level Underground tunnels and stations, the unique nature and environment of the Tube mean that project costs would be prohibitively high at this time."

Now 'at this time' is a biggie because 1. It gives us another thing to blame the bankers for in this recession of ours and 2. TfL started feasibility studies into this in March 2005 and took TWO YEARS just to trial it - so I wouldn't hold your breath. The TfL spokeswoman did add that three alternative proposals were made to it but Silicon.com reports none were deemed commercially "credible".

Now I tend to pride myself on making fairly accurate predictions so it's worth pointing out I was horrendously wrong here. To quote: "If the trial is a success - which it surely will be - then LU will engage in a full tendering process to select a contractor to provide mobile phone and new technology services such as DAB and Internet access to the full network. The earliest date this would be completed is calculated as mid-2009."


Note At no point do I endorse making phone calls on the Tube - much like with call on Planes it would be a horrendous idea and too noisy anyhow - but data availability to check important emails or send SMS, that's a different story.


39024665 39407411 00.htm via Silicon.com

Stewart Clark

March 16, 2009, 8:36 pm

Berlin has managed it; perhaps TFL should give them a call.


March 16, 2009, 8:39 pm

@Stewart Clark - I don't how how deep the Berlin underground lies, but that's the major problem with regards London. Personally they should just enable data anyhow - reduces cost and irritation ;)


March 16, 2009, 8:59 pm

Personally, I don't want telephone calls on the underground. It's one of the main reasons I bought my Archos for my train to work journeys, I can't stand the moronic coversations the great unwash feel fit to share with everybody within earshot, hence I listen to music while I read.

I also don't want mobile calls on planes etc! ;)

While I'm moaning, what's with the muppets with their 15" laptop's who get on at my stop, just manage to get Window's loaded up before they have to switch off, 20 minutes later at the main station. Read a book, look out the window, whatever. Just stop the mindless faffing that shows how unimportant you really are in the world..

@Gordon - I do agree with you though, enabling data would be useful to most with out the noise irritation.


March 16, 2009, 9:16 pm

@joose - you beat me to it, and I agree I don't want to listen to all people shouting down the phone. Makes an already unpleasant commute worse.

iain coghill

March 16, 2009, 9:57 pm

Some years ago there was a proposal to block mobile signals from tube trains even when overground. Oh happy days :)


March 16, 2009, 10:11 pm

@Kevsta - I do say that in the article ;)

Isaac Sarayiah

March 16, 2009, 10:35 pm

Thankfully there will be no phone calls on the Tube. Whoever thought this was a good idea in the first place needs to be shot. What a waste of money doing the feasibility trial.


March 16, 2009, 10:41 pm

@Isaac - as with Kevstra, I refer you to the final paragraph of my article: feasibility into data access is both worthwhile and useful.


March 16, 2009, 10:43 pm

Surely it can't be that prohibitively expensive to fit a small transmitter in each station? That way your SMS and e-mails (inbound and outbound) would just queue up and be delivered every couple of minutes when you stopped at a station. Okay it wouldn't work for voice calls, but frankly I'd rather be spared the annoyance of (a) standing next to some irritating Loadsamoney shouting into his iPhone / Blackberry; or (b) being on the other end of a phone call from someone in the Tube - I can't imagine it being very pleasant with all the background noise of screeching wheels etc.


March 16, 2009, 10:52 pm

Are you kidding? Great news, I say keep them free of phones...it's a God-send to be able to escape underground.

It's nice in theory, wide, air conditioned tunnels and carriages well insulated against noise and brake dust (Mexico City & HK are great), perhaps a gentle tune playing in the background soothing your stress levels from a hard day. 'I know I'll call the wife to say hello...'

In practice, you must know how noisy London rolling stock is in those tiny tunnels. In the summer when all the windows are open and it's 40 degrees down there and your face is somewhere between someones armpit and the glass of the door, a thousand copies of 'Metro' littering the floor, the last thing you need is a phone call to deal with!

I must be a tech philistine because I don't want them on planes either.



March 16, 2009, 10:57 pm

@John McLean @lifethroughalens - ditto my article point and previous posts about Data Only.


March 16, 2009, 11:54 pm

@Gordon - I'm sure nobody here is unaware of what it actually said in your article, it's just that it's an emotive subject and we all want a bit of a moan about it anyway lol.


March 17, 2009, 12:15 am

lol @ the subtitle change.


March 17, 2009, 12:31 am

@joose - fair play ;)

@Alex - wasn't ideal for SEO really!


March 17, 2009, 3:09 am

I'm sorry but wasn't Brown trading off the Obama directive of building a new base for employment during the recession, through investment in comms and technological advancement? I would have thought this would be the perfect opportunity to push that agenda, given that he's trying to redeem the current dismal status of The City, and sex up its transport in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Then again, I guess the old cry of "Job creation! Job creation!" is as tired and insincere as "I need to spend more time with the family."

Damn. Ever since I read that story, I've been looking forward to ending my boredom on the Victoria Line, with a bit of 'rail-surfing'.

Stewart Clark

March 17, 2009, 12:56 pm

Gordon, depth of tunnel has no baring, once your underground the signals won't penetrate. In reality I do not care becuase I avoid the London tubes beacause they are hot, noisy and over crowded.

Geoff Richards

March 17, 2009, 1:16 pm

Stewart - I imagine the technique involves piping the signal *along* the tunnels via repeater stations, not attempting to penetrate the ground (which as you say, wouldn't work).

Of course, as lifethroughalens suggests, it's often impossible to even have a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the Tube, nevermind someone down a phoneline. So unless all Tube trains were airconditioned, sealed & silent like Heathrow Express etc, there's no way this will work.


March 17, 2009, 1:19 pm

@Stewart - rubbish! Look at New York, where the trains run just below the surface (as in you can look through grids in the road and see them in places) and you can get a solid mobile signal in many areas.


March 17, 2009, 1:23 pm

Most likely failed due to a combination of the cost and time to implement (they are deep tunnels with only a couple of hours access to engineers a night), length of tunnels and speed of trains requiring lots of kit and probably an unreasonable revenue share requirement from tfl being the final straw that breaks the business case.

The operators probably believe that voice traffic is saturated and that calls underground are substitions for overground calls. Data is sold unlimited so little incremental revenue there.

Needs a wifi op to put in kit and sell subscriptions separately on monthly and PAYG basis.


March 17, 2009, 2:32 pm

With just a data link, it could actually be even worse (with VoIP) -



March 17, 2009, 3:46 pm

@critical - the percentage of users with VoIP however is tiny by comparison, but long term it's far more useful... ;)


March 17, 2009, 6:51 pm

@ian-in-northampton - funny thing is I was asked by my younger brother a number of years ago: "What did you do before mobile phones?" I thought for a moment then replied: "We STUCK to our plans!"

Wouldn't want to go back to a phoneless age though - maybe for a week!


March 17, 2009, 10:37 pm

@StewartClark - this is not true: I live in Warsaw - the 'Metro' tunnel here is fairly shallow (certainly compared to Moscow or St Petersburg) and every time you stop at a station you are able to send/receive SMSs and make calls.

What a mercy it is not to have unrestricted phone calls on the tube!


March 18, 2009, 1:57 pm

What's the incentive for TfL to do this? Obviously it would cost a fortune and it's not like the lack of the service at the moment stops people using the tube. Why go to all that hassle if it wouldn't generate more customers?


March 22, 2009, 6:42 am

People how gullible are you in London. Even the deepest stations of the underground systems in Oslo and Stockholm, you can get a crystal clear mobile phone signal. And no you dont pay a penny extra for it.

Why do you accept these lame excuses?

And get a subway that is open 24 hours while you are at it. Anything less is laughable for a town of 8 or 10MM people that claims to be a world city.

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