Six NYC subway stations go wireless

It is getting easier to make a call or send an E-mail on one of the last unreachable spots in New York: the subway. (Sept. 27)

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Expect the sound of ringing cellphones and the sight of people tapping out tweets next time you're underground in one of six Manhattan subway stations now equipped with wireless technology.

MTA officials Tuesday enabled wireless voice and data communications capability at the stops, five along the West 14th Street route. The long-anticipated service makes the expectation of losing cellphone signals upon descending into a station a thing of the past.

"Now you can't even tell people, 'I'm getting on the train. I have to get off the phone,' " said Shawn Davis, 34, of Chelsea, who found it amusing that she had phone service while aboard an L train that sat in a station. "I can't believe I have four bars."

The pilot program accommodates only AT&T and T-Mobile customers, but the MTA and Transit Wireless, the company licensed by the MTA to run the network, are in negotiations with other carriers.

The signals cover the platforms but reach only partially into the tunnels.

Officials expect to have 30 more stations enabled within the year. They said all of the subway system's 277 underground stations would be equipped by 2016 in a rollout estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million.

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The costs of installing and maintaining antennas, "base station hotels" and hundreds of miles of cables will be shouldered by Transit Wireless and the wireless carriers, with Transit Wireless eventually paying the MTA an annual minimum compensation of $3.3 million.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity for our customers to stay connected," said Carmen Bianco, MTA's senior vice president for subways, said at a news conference Tuesday at the 14th Street-Eighth Avenue station.

The wireless service made it possible for Ianina Im, 35, of Brooklyn, to call her filmmaking colleagues from the A, C, E train platform and tell them she'd be late to a meeting.

It also will increase safety, allowing those AT&T and T-Mobile customers calling 911 to enter the subway without their calls being dropped, and for 911 dispatchers to tell whether the call is coming from street level or underground.

"So for those of you who now see something, what we've done today, downstairs, we've enabled you to say something," said William Bayne Jr., chief executive for Transit Wireless.

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Straphanger Cambria Smith, 30, of Brooklyn, said the wireless capabilities may mean that riders would no longer read or daydream while waiting for their train.

"In New York, it's about the only downtime you have, so if you're just sitting there, you can catch up on your text messages," she said.

She had an afterthought: "Though it might be annoying if people stop suddenly in front of you because they're busy texting."

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