Let’s get digital – Tube customers checking their emails at stations by 2012

Following a successful trial of Wi-Fi technology at Charing Cross Tube station which is ongoing until later this year, London Underground is inviting telecoms companies to tender for Wi-Fi provision at up to 120 stations across the network by June 2012. A contract will be awarded to the chosen bidder by the end of 2011, which could mean that customers will be able to log on to the internet from their laptops or mobile devices at stations before the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games

The trial, which began in November 2010, and carried out with BT Openzone, was met with enthusiasm by passengers.

The first phase of wider Wi-Fi provision on the Tube would be to make available the service currently used by LU staff at 16 stations for customer use, and then to work to expand this service to other underground stations.

Research from Charing Cross Tube station found that over half of London Underground customers surveyed felt that access to Wi-Fi would make their experience of using the Tube better. Many people questioned have said they would like to see this service rolled out to more stations on the Underground and that connecting to a wireless broadband hotspot with a Wi-Fi enabled device at a Tube station is very useful.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said: “The roll out of Wi-Fi technology across the platforms and public areas of our Tube stations will finally allow Londoners to use mobile devices to pick up their emails, access social media sites and stay in touch with the world above while they traverse our subterranean transport network. We are inviting companies to bid to do this before next June, which would mean that even Londoners going underground will be able to keep up to date with the British medal tally at the 2012 Games.”

London Underground expects the tender to be of interest to existing service providers and other established internet service providers looking to expand into the public Wi-Fi market. As well as improving journeys for customers, Wi-Fi services are a potential future revenue source for London Underground.  The tender is for the provision of Wi-Fi services at stations and will allow customers to access their emails anywhere in the station. The service does not extend to trains.

[Editors note: Although it is a shame that the service won’t be extended to trains (so much of Londoner’s lives are spent on the Tube) we should all sigh with relief that this is Internet only and hopefully, won’t extend to making phone calls as was mentioned recently. Only time will tell!]

This invitation to tender will also allow prospective partners to supply details of how they would create a Wi-Fi network at street level at places such as bus shelters or bus hubs. A contract notice will appear in the Official Journal of the European Union later this month and the tender is also being advertised in the national press next Tuesday.

Transport for London and the Mayor of London are currently in discussion with mobile phone operators and other suppliers about the potential provision of mobile phone services on the deep Tube network. Given the financial pressures on TfL’s budgets, any solution would need to be funded through mobile operators with no cost to fare or taxpayers. Discussions are ongoing.

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