Metrorail wireless service to expand
Internet access, expanded cell phone use coming
Metro riders will be able to call home from any cell phone, access the Internet from any Web-enabled cell phone and eventually have Wi-Fi access in the rail system, under an agreement approved Thursday by Metro’s Board.
Four major cell phone 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.
“We are looking forward to offering Metro riders the first elements of Metro’s expanded cell phone carrier service this year. Metro will get two new comprehensive wireless networks for free, and we will receive millions of dollars in new revenue,” said Suzanne Peck, Metro’s Assistant General Manager for Information Technology.
The companies will design, build, operate, maintain and own a wireless network. The firms will also build a second wireless network, which Metro will own, operate and maintain for Metro’s own operational and public safety communications. Twenty of the busiest underground rail stations will have expanded cell phone service by the end of this year and the entire rail system will be equipped by 2012.
Riders can now receive cell phone service from multiple providers at above ground stations, but the current underground wireless network only supports Verizon customers 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. Transit agency officials say the wireless network doesn’t support all carriers and current broadband services, such as streaming video.
“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,” said Metro General Manager John Catoe. “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.
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. 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.
News release issued at 2:52 pm, February 27, 2009.