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Free Wi-Fi debuts in city subway stations

Emily Langmead was hesitant when she first heard of free Wi-Fi in the subway. Like many New Yorkers, she wondered what the catch was.

But now, she says, she uses it all the time.

One month into wireless service being provided in six New York City subway stations, commuters such as Langmead are happy to have chances to connect when their trains pull into one of the underground stations with Wi-Fi.

"Are you kidding? Being able to check my email when the train is in the subway is an amazing thing," she said. "I love it."

The new service is part of a $200 million plan to connect the subway to the outside world. Transit Wireless, the company in charge of building and designing the network, is working with many carriers to provide cellphone and data connectivity services to all 277 underground stations in New York by 2017.

The service, sponsored by Google Offers, is available on train platforms at five stations, all in the Chelsea neighborhood. Customers of T-Mobile and AT&T can also use cellphones in the six stations. Negotiations continue for telecom giants such as Verizon and Sprint to join.

While some other cities have had data and cellphone connectivity in their subways for years, some New Yorkers were not thrilled with the idea because it can be disruptive. Others, though, see a benefit.

"It helps if you are in an emergency and you need to communicate with somebody and you don't have email or anything else functioning, I think it can be very useful," said subway rider Melissa Cardona-Bodhert.

While there have been concerns about noise pollution, the benefits of staying connected outweighed the concerns, said William Bayne Jr., the chief executive of Transit Wireless.

Boingo Wireless is one of the first clients for Transit Wireless. Boingo is known for providing Wi-Fi services in airports but now wants to enter the advertising game.

Both companies see the move to wire the subways as a gold mine. Sponsoring Wi-Fi provides companies with the chance to advertise to more than 1.6 billion riders every year. And although Google Offers' sponsorship officially ends on Sept. 7, it could continue. Boingo and Transit Wireless said they have others in the pipeline, in case it doesn't.

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