Mayor of London promises public 4G on the Tube by 2019

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.

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POOL New / Reuters
POOL New / Reuters

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has vowed to bring proper mobile connectivity to the London Underground, including platforms and tunnels, by 2019. It's a promise that we've heard many times before, but this time it might actually happen because it's tied to a crucial network upgrade for the emergency services. A trunked radio system called Airwave, owned by Motorola Solutions, is due to be switched off before 2020. It'll be replaced by the Emergency Services Network (ESN), a 4G and 5G-ready service managed by EE. Khan's hope is that the new infrastructure required for ESN can also be offered to commuter and tourists on the Underground.

"If we are to remain competitive in the global economy, we need to ensure every Londoner is able to access a fast and reliable digital connection," Khan said. "That means working to boost connectivity across London – tackling not-spots, delivering connectivity in the London Underground and working with local authorities to provide digital infrastructure fitting of a global tech hub." The new deadline will be hard to meet, however. As The Register reports, the UK Public Accounts Committee has warned the government about likely delays. Transport for London has also said it's not "absolutely confident" it can make the January 2019 deadline. Oof.

Wi-Fi has been available on the London Underground since 2012. While useful, it's only available on platforms and escalators — as soon as your train leaves the station, the connection drops and you have to wait until the next stop. Reliable and widely available 4G would solve the problem and also mitigate some of the demand inflicted on the WiFi network. With Airwave on borrowed time, the introduction of 4G is a matter of when, not if. The new Elizabeth Line, set to launch in December 2018, will have mobile connectivity off the bat. For the rest of the Tube network, however, it could be a long wait as EE and TfL sort out the emergency services first.

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