When Sadiq Khan stood to be the mayor of London last year, he promised to eliminate the Underground’s mobile ‘not-spots’. To Londoners whose subterranean phone reception had been limited to tube stations, it might have sounded like a pretty radical plan. In reality, it wasn’t.
The tunnels of Berlin, Paris and New York’s metros have featured Wi-Fi networks for years. Commuters on public transport in Seoul, meanwhile, have enjoyed seamless calling and web browsing for more than a decade.
So it’s welcome news that Mr Khan’s vision is soon set to become reality, with the mayor and Transport for London (TfL) working to let passengers make calls and browse the web throughout London Underground’s warren of tunnels. The FT and the BBC have reported that firms will be invited to start bidding to provide a 4G Wi-Fi service once the election is over.
While a TfL spokesperson refused to confirm the story, they did send New Statesman Tech the following statement: “We are keen to offer full mobile phone coverage for our customers. The introduction of this would need to be commercially viable and would follow engagement with staff and customers.”
Possible bidders include Virgin Media, which built the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure on the tube, and BT’s mobile phone network EE, which boasts the strongest Wi-Fi on platforms. Openreach, which runs the UK’s broadband infrastructure, could also make a bid.
The move to expand London Underground’s mobile coverage forms just one part of Mr Khan’s plans for tech in the capital. Last month, the mayor launched his search for London’s first ever chief digital officer, who will be tasked with transforming how public services are delivered across the city.