London underground passengers will soon be able to use their phones in the depths of every tube station and tunnel, the mayor has pledged, with mobile coverage throughout the network by the end of 2024.
Transport for London (TfL) said work to prepare some of the capital’s busiest stations, including Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Bank, would begin soon, and they would be among the first fully connected stations by the end of next year.
TfL has awarded a 20-year concession to BAI Communications, which has built infrastructure in cities including New York and Hong Kong, to provide 4G mobile coverage.
The contract will eradicate one of the most high-profile and highly populated “not-spots” in Britain, where phone reception – for good or bad – has been unavailable.
Commuters between Westminster and Canary Wharf who persisted during the pandemic have been able to call underground under a pilot that made phone reception available for the first time in March last year on the eastern half of the Jubilee line.
Mobile coverage on underground sections of the tube had previously been available only in a short trial on the Waterloo and City line during summer 2017.
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who was re-elected last month, said: “I promised Londoners that if they re-elected me for a second term as mayor I would deliver 4G throughout the tube network.
“It’s already up and running on the eastern half of the Jubilee line and I’m delighted to announce today that I am fulfilling that commitment and full internet access will be available across the tube, with key central London stations such as Oxford Circus and Euston set to benefit before the end of next year.”
Shashi Verma, the chief technology officer at TfL, said: “London underground was born in the 19th century, and this concession to deliver mobile coverage to the whole tube network ensures it continues to adapt for customers in the 21st century.
“Providing mobile connectivity to customers within the tunnels and on platforms across London will help them stay connected more easily, and will both provide a long-term revenue stream for TfL and support economic growth across the city.”
The infrastructure would be ready to seamlessly upgrade to 5G, TfL said, while tube tunnels would be also be used to install full fibre connectivity across London under the contract.
Business groups said the decision would boost the capital’s recovery. The London First chief executive, John Dickie, said: “The increase in connectivity and productivity this investment will bring is welcome news for businesses and passengers alike.
“The new fibre backbone’s effects will go beyond transport, helping the whole of London to get high speed connectivity and supporting the capital in the race to harness smart city technology to improve urban life.”
BAI is a multinational telecoms company specialising in mobile coverage on urban transport systems, including on subways in the US, Canada and Hong Kong, as well as providing transmission for broadcasting across Australia. It is majority owned by the Canadian pension fund CPP Investments.