“Transport for London working to bring mobile connectivity to London Underground” declared a City Hall press release issued today to big up Mayor Sadiq Khan’s commitment “to boost digital connectivity across the capital and tackle London’s areas of poor connectivity”.
However while the release contains some new Mayoral initiatives, the Tube’s forthcoming 4G connectivity isn’t one of them.
The service will be a by-product of a Home Office decision to axe the current Airwave system used by the UK’s 999 services and award EE a contract to build a 4G-based replacement.
Over the long run this is expected to be cheaper for the taxpayer and will be more easily upgradeable, for example to 5G when that’s available, but in the first instance it needs EE to expand its 4G network in areas where coverage is less than ideal – including the Tube, work the Government is funding.
In light of the public funding, EE announced in June 2016 that rivals would be given access to those parts of its network built with the Home Office cash.
Nationally the project is being managed by the Home Office, but TfL has a key role to play in ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure the British Transport Police and, if there was an incident, any other blue light services on the Tube can communicate to colleagues elsewhere on the network or above ground.
While TfL answers to the Mayor, in this instance it’s working to support a policy initiated by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, not Sadiq.
Anyone interested in the substance, rather than today’s shameless attempt at spin, might like to read this transcript of last month’s London Assembly Q&A with representatives from the Home Office, BTP, Met, TfL, London Ambulance and the Fire Brigade in which AMs were told:
“We are completely focused on the delivery of ESN, while being mindful of creating infrastructure that has the potential for being re-used.
“Yes, the aim is that this should eventually be re-used for providing a public cellular network in the underground stations and tunnels but the first phase of this is very much on ESN and that is where the delivery focus is right now.”