Networks call time on Olympic bid for mobiles on the Tube

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The Independent Online

Hopes that Londoners would be able to use their mobile phones on the underground in time for the Olympics were dashed last night, after the UK’s largest mobile operators said the work could not be done in time.

O2, Everything Everywhere, Vodafone and 3UK, dropped the bombshell to Mayor of London Boris Johnson and London Underground in a meeting yesterday. One source close to the networks said it was “just too difficult in the time”.

Johnson had backed the move to bring mobile phones to the Underground network in time for the Olympics next year, as long as there was no cost to the taxpayer, but following weeks of talks the plans have now been put on ice.

The operators said in a joint statement last night: “We have been working closely with infrastructure partners and London Underground for some time with the hope of delivering mobile services to the London Underground and are disappointed that it will not be possible to deliver such services in time for next year's Olympic Games.”

Yet, it is likely that mobile services will be brought to the underground following the Games. “As a group, we will continue to positively explore all other avenues available to us in order to provide a service at a later date,” the operators said.

The companies have already spent over £2m on assessing the feasibility of bringing passengers 3G services - from calls to texting and mobile internet - which would work in the tunnels of London’s tube network. Creating a whole underground network has been estimated at costing upwards of £100m.

Chinese manufacturer Huawei was to provide the kit needed to generate a signal underground, which was to be installed and run by Thales, the French contractor. Huawei is understood to have offered Transport for London £50m worth of equipment to win the contract and gain a significant foothold in the UK market.

Yet, the world’s oldest underground tube network, with its ageing infrastructure, proved too problematic for the companies looking to install the technology along the ceilings of the tunnels and in the tube carriages in time.

While mobile operators will not be able to provide 3G services, London underground may be able to offer internet services over WiFi in time for the games. BT has been running trials of the technology at Charing Cross Station and it emerged this week that it is to roll out 120 WiFi spots across the underground system. The service will allow passengers to use the web but will not work in tunnels.

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