Cellular service is coming to New York's subway tunnels, but it's going to take a while

The project will take 10 years to complete.

Andrew Kelly / reuters

Cellular service is coming to New York’s subway tunnels. This week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it was embarking on a 10-year project to wire all 418 miles of underground track underneath the city with wireless connectivity. Transit Wireless will build the necessary infrastructure and foot the resulting $600 million bill as part of an ongoing public-private between the two organizations.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Transit Wireless operates the MTA’s existing underground WiFi network. It’s also a subsidiary of BAI Communications, a company that has completed similar projects in Toronto, Hong Kong and other parts of the world. The agreement will also see Transit Wireless wire all of the MTA's 191 aboveground stations and 21 Staten Island Railway stations with WiFi. The good news for New Yorkers and visitors is that work on the project won’t lead to additional subway service interruptions.

According to The New York Times, Transit Wireless plans to pay for the project through data collection and fiber-optic cable leases to carriers. The company will begin revenue sharing with the MTA once it recoups its initial investment. At first, the agency can look forward to a 20 percent cut before that amount increases to 40 percent in the 15th year after Transit Wireless earns its money back.

The MTA isn’t the only transit agency working to provide cellular service to its riders. Last year, Transport for London said the Underground would get full mobile access by 2024. Other cities such as Seoul and Paris have had similar systems in place for years.

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