Metro Announces Deal For More Cell Service
It's dream fulfillment for some Metro riders, and a nightmare scenario for others: The transit authority has approved a deal to expand mobile phone service in the rail system.
In addition to solving the problem with using many cell phone services in the tunnels, the new deal will allow riders to access the Internet from any Web-enabled cell phone and eventually have Wi-Fi access in the system.
Twenty of the busiest underground stations will have expanded cell phone service by the end of this year, and the entire rail system will be equipped by 2012, Metro said in an announcement this afternoon.
For many years, Verizon was the only service that worked underground. Sometimes, the only noise you can hear inside a Metrorail car during rush hour is the yakking of Verizon customers, sharing their business deals and their love lives with 100 total strangers.
Suzanne Peck, Metro's assistant general manager for information technology, said the transit authority will get two new comprehensive wireless networks for free, as well as millions of dollars in additional revenue.
Four companies -- Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile -- will build a new wireless infrastructure in the underground rail system during the next four years, the announcement said.
The companies will design, build, operate, maintain and own one wireless network. They also will build a second wireless network, which Metro will own, operate and maintain for its operational and public safety communications.
Above ground, riders can receive any cell phone service. Underground, the current wireless network supports only Verizon, 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 own the current wireless network. In exchange, Verizon built a public safety radio communications system for Metro.
Verizon also has been paying annual fees to Metro. But many riders complained that they and the transit authority had gotten a bad deal. Transit agency officials noted the current wireless network doesn't support all carriers and current broadband services, such as streaming video.
Riders complained about the limited service and about the dead spots in the system.
"Once we get a new wireless system completely installed, Metro and our riders will have access to enhanced cellular service and fewer dropped calls underground," Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said in the announcement. "Metro's second wireless network will support our next generation of public safety and other operational wireless needs, such as The Metro Channel."
The Metro Channel will provide riders with rail and bus service information, news and advertising via monitors in stations, trains and buses. (But the ads won't have audio.)
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, Metro said. Other FCC licensed and unlicensed carriers can gain access to the networks either through entering into agreements with Metro or the group of carriers, all of which will produce additional revenue for the transit agency.
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