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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.


Metro Resources:  Riding the System  |  Trip Planner   |   Map  |  Post Coverage

By Robert Thomson  |  February 27, 2009; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Next: Dulles Rail Construction to Become More Visible


We beat you with this:-)

Posted by: reller521 | February 27, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Well the good news is this means my cell phone jammer will now work underground too. BWAHAHAHAHA!!

Posted by: rrno62 | February 27, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

It's already bad enough listening to people HOLLER into their phones. Ugh.

Posted by: Diner65 | February 27, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

What good will underground WiFi be when Metro refuses to integrate with googleMaps?

Posted by: comesthesun1 | February 27, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I use Verison and am able to access the inet regularly throughout Metro rail system. This just sounds like another upgrade. Something good would be a link you could access to let you know when the next train you want is due to arrive at a certain station. I specialize at just missing trains that run 15 or 16 minutes apart. Now .. information like that should be easy to put on the net as it's already being translated to Metro signs (which, for some inane reason, don't tell you when a train is at the station .. a train you could easily make if you knew it was there).

Oh, and get more signs so you don't waste the train schedule signs for the never ending escalator closed notices. Find some other place to put that (entrance) and leave it at that.

Posted by: tslats | February 27, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: larmoecurl | February 27, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Hey TSLATS . . . what you want is already provided by Metro.

Here's the link, just click on the station you want to know about.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: sloppyawn | February 27, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

People on Metro have diarrhea of the mouth, cell phone or not. Yak, yak, yak about the most trifling things. These high school students that get on around 3 o'clock, I can do without their yelling also.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | February 27, 2009 8:17 PM | Report abuse

As a supporter of public transit generally, I see two good sides to this: first, it provides money to a system that needs cash to continue to expand, and second, it could be considered a service upgrade that might help get some commuters out of their cars.

On the other hand, I can't stand the loud talkers either and I pretty much just want to zone out in peace on my way to and from work.

Posted by: WorldCup | February 27, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

To further expand on sloppyawn's response to TSLATS, there is a mobile version of Metro's website (accessible from virtually any cellphone) that also provides real-time train information. It's at

Posted by: jmrzx | February 27, 2009 10:56 PM | Report abuse

>They also will build a second wireless
>network, which Metro will own, operate and
>maintain for its operational and public
>safety communications.

Wait a sec.... what happened to that enormously expensive, way behind schedule, Motorola upgrade that WMATA was getting; but didn't work worth beans? Is that now yesterday's news?

Posted by: georgeb1 | March 1, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

@larmoecur - The escalators are OFF more often then they are on in my experiance. Which causes problems because then there is no control over the flow of traffic - escalators are not wide enough for people to be going in both directions on one escalator. I've missed trains over this since people getting off the train run up all the non-working escalators - trapping those of us trying to go down. I'm glad they are opening the cell service. I don't talk on the train - but I do like to text my boyfriend as I'm getting close to home so that he knows when my train will get there to walk me back home safely.

Posted by: Ann_Oyed | March 3, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse


I hope they start with the Green Line. Between Gallary Place and Southern Ave is the dead zone.

Posted by: KRBZMOM | March 4, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Yet another reason to drive instead of taking the Metro. I'd rather sit in traffic than listen to morons flapping their gums. Every time I take the Metro to work, I regret it. This only confirms the right thing to do is keep driving.

Metro should yank the Verizon connection out of the system, not put more in.

Posted by: LittleSal | March 5, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

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