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The Mayor of London plans to bring mobile connectivity to the entire London Underground network within three years as he scrambles to repair its battered finances after the pandemic.
The Telegraph understands the telecoms operator BAI Communications has secured a contract with Transport for London (TfL), overseen by Sadiq Khan, to roll out mobile coverage across all Tube lines by 2024, in a deal expected to be announced in the coming days.
The deal will install 4G and 5G connectivity to all underground lines, with plans to bring Camden Town, Tottenham Court Road, Euston, Bank and Oxford Circus online by 2022.
BAI, which operates similar systems in Hong Kong, New York and Toronto, plans to charge mobile operators to provide a signal via the infrastructure and share the income with TfL.
It comes at a delicate time for the organisation, which has been repeatedly bailed out by taxpayers during the pandemic as commuters stay at home. Rail chiefs are weighing cuts to services in an attempt to shore up its finances and wean the industry off a £800m-a-month subsidy.
Industry sources said none of the four mobile operators - BT’s EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three - have yet agreed a deal to use the infrastructure.
Frustrations over the scale of TfL’s planned charges have simmered in the telecoms industry for years, and played a significant role in repeated delays in bringing mobile coverage to the Tube.
The technical and cost challenges of installing radio equipment and antennas throughout the world’s oldest metro rail network have also held back a project that was first mooted before the 2012 Olympics, in cooperation with the controversial Chinese equipment vendor Huawei.
The deal with BAI is expected to generate new income for TfL for 20 years, sources said. The equipment installed is said to be “5G ready” and so easily upgraded to the latest iteration of mobile network technology.
However, to begin with it will provide 4G signals, in line with a trial already underway on the Jubilee Line. Some 2,000 kilometres of cable are due to be installed within tunnels and stations, although the work is not expected to cause disruption to timetables.
It will bring an extra layer of digital connectivity to the Tube network's 260 stations, which are already covered by a WiFi network from Virgin Media.
Vodafone recently ended its WiFi contract with Virgin Media because the take up prior to the pandemic was too low to justify the cost. Customers can still link up to the WiFi service, but they will have to pay a monthly charge for access.
The decision drew criticism from the Labour MP, Stella Creasey, who tweeted: "Vodafone are claiming no one is using the wifi on the underground anymore, hence why they are stopping the service. Is that your experience? seems odd given how Vodafone were boasting about their underground services last year."