Subway tunnel cellphone service to be tested

An arriving A train causes a gust of

An arriving A train causes a gust of wind to blow through the Fulton Street station in Manhattan. (April 24, 2013). (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Your cellphone could soon get service in some subway tunnels.

A pilot program to test AT&T and T-Mobile service along the A/C/E line between 14th and 23rd streets is set to start in late May, an official with Transit Wireless said Thursday. It aims to test methods of covering tunnels shorter than half a mile.

Transit Wireless, which is also wiring the subway's 277 underground stations, will install "very sophisticated antennas at the mouth of each tunnel," shooting a signal into the tubes that will provide coverage, Bill Bayne Jr., Transit Wireless' chief executive, said.


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If the private overnight test is successful, the pilot program will run live with commuter access for a "month or two to really prove the quality," Bayne said.

Bayne said Transit Wireless got the go-ahead for the pilot two weeks ago.

"If the technology proves itself, and the MTA wants us to do it," then Transit Wireless will expand the pilot program over the next year," Bayne said.

It's unclear if Wi-Fi will be part of the pilot.

Verizon declined to say whether it is part of the tunnel pilot program. Sprint didn't respond to a request for comment. The MTA declined to comment on the pilot.

Meanwhile, officials Thursday announced the completion of cellular and Wi-Fi service at 30 subway stations with even more carriers.

Sprint and Verizon are finalizing talks with the MTA to join AT&T and T-Mobile in providing service to stations underground, as the multiyear project to wire all underground stations marches toward its estimated 2017 completion date.

Times Square, Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle and other stations, most on the West Side between 18th and 96th streets, were part of the completed Phase 1 rollout of service officials announced Thursday.

The next phase of service installation is set to be completed by the first quarter of 2014, officials said Thursday. That phase will focus primarily on wiring stations in Queens, along with a handful of stations in midtown and midtown west. Major stops will include the Main Street station in Flushing and a handful of stations along the 7, E, F, M and R lines.

After Phase 2, service is set to come to the Lower East Side and Harlem, followed by the Bronx and Upper East Side, with the rest of the city to follow. The entire wiring of underground stations is contractually obligated to be finished by 2018, but Bayne said Transit Wireless is shooting for 2017.

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