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4G mobile phone technology will go live within tunnels on most of the Jubilee line in March 2020. Photograph: The Guardian

Calling at all stations: tube passengers to get 4G reception from next year

4G mobile technology will launch on Jubilee line and will be extended to other lines

WT24 Desk

London Underground passengers will be able to use their phones in tunnels between stations from early next year, removing one of the last major public places in Britain without phone reception and creating new challenges to commuter etiquette, The Guardian reports.

Transport for London confirmed to the Guardian that 4G mobile phone technology would go live in tunnels on most of the Jubilee line from March 2020 and on other lines in the coming years.

The move raises the prospect of commuters making and receiving phone calls while packed into typically largely chat-free tube carriages.

Mark Bulle, TfL’s head of infrastructure transformation, acknowledged that passenger behaviour could change. “People could have their commute interrupted – but at the end of the day it’s up to people whether they take the call from their boss.”

However, he expects most people to instead use the connection for data services, and he said it should be fast enough to allow uninterrupted viewing of video streams. “You should be able to stream live sports,” he said.

Mobile phone coverage has been standard in many subway systems around the world for several years, with some cities such as Moscow offering commuters both wifi and mobile phone connections. Even the Channel tunnel has a 4G signal, but until now London commuters have had to rely on the wifi system available only in stations – resulting in a rush to log on at the moment a train pulls into the platform.

The capital’s underground network, the world’s oldest subway network, poses a challenge because many of the lines are built in narrow tunnels that often bend to follow the route of public roads on the surface, making it harder for signals to travel along them. TfL is adopting a model based on “leaky feeders” – essentially running cables through tunnels that act as giant aerials.

The upgrade, which will ultimately require around 2,000km of new cabling, is being installed in conjunction with a much-delayed Home Office-mandated 4G telephone network for the emergency services, saving the need to fit two different sets of equipment.

While TfL is picking up the bill for initial trial on the Jubilee line extensionbetween Canning Town and Westminster, it will soon award a contract to a private operator which will install 4G equipment within all of London’s tube tunnels by the mid-2020s. Mobile phone networks will then pay the private operator for access to the network, with the transport authority receiving a cut of profits.

Installation of the network is complicated by the decision to introduce 24-hour tube services, which limits the amount of access that engineering staff have to the tunnels. There are no plans to install a 5G network within the tunnels owing to the substantial amount of equipment that would be required.

The introduction of mobile phone reception could have a negative impact on London’s free print publications such as the Evening Standard, which rely on attracting the attention of commuters on the tube.

Similar schemes are being considered on the UK’s other underground rail networks. Merseyrail is installing a wifi network in its Liverpool tunnels, and the Glasgow Subway is experimenting with 5G services. Newcastle commuters could feel London is playing catch-up, having had 2G mobile signal on the limited sub-surface sections of the Tyne & Wear Metro since 2004, with upgrades to more modern technology due to start in the autumn.

Although the UK’s four mobile phone networks are is still in negotiations about accessing the new equipment in London’s tube tunnels, TfL expects that customer demand will ensure they all provide services on the move. “Our suspicion is that none of them will want to be left behind,” said Bulle.


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