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Washington D.C.: Radio Silence on the Subway

August 11, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Seems there’s virtually no connectivity available while riding the Metro subway. Verizon is the only cellular carrier with cell towers in the subway, so those of us who rely on alternate carriers like AT&T are just out of luck while underground. In addition, the Metro system does not offer Wi-Fi, so there’s no Internet access. Since all mobile cell and Internet communications involve the good old air waves, I say there’s virtual radio silence while riding the D.C. area subway. Oh, well, maybe there are actually times when it’s good to disconnect and get away from it all…

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  1. Recently listed: Customers will have expanded cell phone, Internet access by October 16

    Metrorail riders soon will be able to use four major cell phone providers to make calls or access the Internet from 20 of Metro’s busiest underground stations.

    Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile began installing hardware at designated Metrorail stations this weekend that will allow Metrorail customers
    to make calls, send text messages or surf the Web from 20 stations starting Friday, October 16.

    During the next two months, the companies will install a wireless network at the following Metrorail stations: Ballston, Bethesda, Columbia Heights, Crystal
    City, Dupont Circle, Farragut North, Farragut West, Federal Triangle, Foggy Bottom-GWU, Friendship Heights, Gallery Pl-Chinatown, Judiciary Square, L’Enfant
    Plaza, McPherson Square, Metro Center, Pentagon, Pentagon City, Rosslyn, Smithsonian and Union Station.

    Customers at those stations will begin to see large, cabinet-like enclosures that will house the hardware at the ends of station platforms or on mezzanines,
    in areas that will not impede the flow of customers or impact the safe operation of the Metrorail system. New cables and antennae also will be installed
    as part of this work, which will take place late at night when the Metrorail system is closed

    “This is the first phase of Metro’s effort to bring expanded cell phone carrier service to the entire Metrorail system by 2012,” said Suzanne Peck, Metro’s
    Chief Information Officer. “After we complete the first 20 stations this fall, the carriers will install service at the remaining 27 underground stations
    by the fall of 2010. Customers will be able to use these carrier-provided wireless services in tunnels between stations by October 2012.”

    Riders can now receive cell phone service from multiple providers at above ground stations, but the current underground wireless network only supports
    Verizon customers and Sprint phones that roam onto the Verizon network. In 1993, Metro agreed to allow Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, which later became
    Verizon Wireless, to build and maintain the current wireless network. In exchange, Verizon built a public safety radio communications system for Metro.
    Verizon also pays annual fees to Metro.

    “Customers have been asking for expanded cell phone and Internet access in the Metrorail system for a long time,” said Metro General Manager John Catoe.
    “I’m extremely pleased that we will make that convenience a reality for customers at our busiest stations this fall.”

    Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile will build, operate, maintain and own the new wireless network that is currently being installed. The
    firms also will build a second wireless network, which Metro will own, operate and maintain for Metro’s own public safety and operational communications.
    The second network will support future plans to launch The Metro Channel, which will provide riders with rail and bus service information, news and advertising
    via monitors in stations, trains and buses.

    The wireless contract will generate a minimum of nearly $25 million during the initial 15-year term and an additional $27 million during the five, two-year
    renewal terms. Other FCC licensed and unlicensed carriers may gain access to the networks either through entering into agreements with Metro or the group
    of carriers, which would produce additional revenue for the transit agency.


    Media contact for this news release: Angela Gates or Lisa Farbstein at 202-962-1051.

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