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Tfl – 4G Mobile to Cover Entire London Underground by mid-2020s

Friday, July 19th, 2019 (12:28 pm) - Score 2,213

After several trials Transport for London (TfL) has today announced that they will make 4G mobile (mobile broadband) services available across the whole of their London Underground (tube trains) network by the “mid-2020s“, starting with the eastern half of the Jubilee line from March 2020 (tunnels and stations).

Back in 2017 we reported on a number of related 4G trials (here), which took place in tube tunnels on the Waterloo and City Lines and involved all four of the primary mobile network operators (Vodafone, EE, O2, Three UK). At the time TfL said they would tender for a service provider that could deploy it across their entire Tube network from 2019.

Fast forward to today and TfL has announced that another “trial” will take place to cover the platforms and tunnels between Westminster and Canning Town. 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.

The new network (supporting 2G, 3G and 4G technology) is expected to build on the existing free WiFi service (operated by UK cable broadband ISP Virgin Media) that TfL offers both within more than 260 WiFi-enabled London Underground stations and on TfL Rail services.

Apparently the initial rollout will “shortly” be followed by the next stage of procurement for a primary supplier, which then aims to make 4G services “available across the rest of the network” by the mid-2020s. TfL has already been busy preparing for all of this by installing hundreds of miles of new fibre optic cabling across their network.

Shashi Verma, Chief Technology Officer at TfL, said:

“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.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said:

“I’m delighted that we will be introducing mobile connectivity to the London Underground from next March. This is a really important step for the millions of people who use the Tube each year.

Introducing 4G and, in the future, 5G will help Londoners and visitors keep in touch and get the latest travel information while on the go. London is the best place to live, visit and work – and projects like this will help make it even better.”

Delivering mobile connectivity within the London Underground network, which is one of the world’s largest and gets used by more than 5 million passengers a day, is going to be 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 (space is very limited and this tends to hinder such work).

TfL claims to have already shortlisted four bidders who will be invited to tender for the concession and if all goes to plan then the final contract could be awarded by next Summer 2020.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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7 Responses
  1. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    Although 4G will be welcome only one operator will be running it. If it happens to be, say, Vodafone, that won’t help those who aren’t on this network. Or is there a way that all four operators can share the network?

    I’d still prefer to have WiFi extended to the tunnels.

    • I believe the approach is to deploy shared infrastructure that all the operators could access via wholesale, but we’ll know more once the tender surfaces.

  2. Avatar SimonM

    Good to see, I think, although it does concern me how people walk around “blind” looking at their phones inches from the platform edge on the tube. Personally prefer to keep my phone away in my pocket when I’m on the tube/in London, but maybe that’s just me.

  3. Avatar Billy

    “London is the best place to live, visit and work – and projects like this will help make it even better.”

    And in other news, a politician’s lips just moved.

    • Avatar Joe bloggs

      Billy – get a job mate. The Mayor has made London a better place. He’s been more productive and hands on than any previous Mayors. And before you reference knife crime, that perfect storm in a tea cup was brewing ahead of Sadiq coming on the scene… it’s a mere phase that our younger members of society find more acceptable, owing to glorification through social media and drill grime/rap videos and coincidentally being able to view this crap from their mobile phones and devices.

  4. Avatar Neil

    Having no mobile phone connectivity on the underground is great. This is one development I am not eager to hasten.

  5. Avatar Packet Switched

    My reservation is against WiFi as opposed to having all four of the major networks mobile signals available.

    For general use WiFi is iffy especially the indications on my browser using my tablet, smartphone or laptop that the
    security of the link over WiFi is questionable. This is frequent and quite typically in places where the users would take for
    granted that the security would be particularly good. It does not happen connecting using EE’s, O2’s, Vodaphone’s or 3’s
    signals for data.

    There are clear indications that data transfer over what were originally voice only cellular networks has taken off
    and will increase further. One of the basic drivers to this is accessing payment and banking details.

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