TfL Opens Bidding For Tube Wi-Fi Contract

Londoners will get to surf the web at Tube stations next year as the bidding for underground Wi-Fi provision begins

Telecoms companies will soon be able to bid to provide Wi-Fi hotspots at 120 Tube stations across the capital, Transport for London has revealed.

Later this month, a contract notice will appear in the Official Journal of the European Union, while the tender will be advertised in the national press on 29 March.

According to Transport for London (TfL), a bidder will be selected by the end of this year to build the network by June 2012, to ensure that Tube passengers can surf the web underground before the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“The roll out of Wi-Fi technology across the platforms and public areas of our Tube stations will finally allow Londoners to use mobile devices to pick up their emails, access social media sites and stay in touch with the world above while they traverse our subterranean transport network,” said Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

However, the Wi-Fi connectivity at tube stations will be available only to the platform edge, and not onboard trains.

London-wide Wi-Fi coverage

TfL’s announcement followed a six-month Wi-Fi trial at Charing Cross Tube station, which was launched by BT Openzone and London Underground (LU) on 1 November 2010.

According to TfL, the pilot project was met with enthusiasm by passengers, with over half of Tube users surveyed saying the Wi-Fi connectivity would make their underground journey a more pleasant experience.

The first phase of wider Wi-Fi provision on the Tube will start with the Internet service currently used by London Underground staff at 16 stations being made available to passengers, before extending the service to other stops.

Given the Mayor’s pledge to give London full Wi-Fi coverage, the invitation to tender will also allow prospective partners to supply details of how they would create a Wi-Fi network at street level at places such as bus stations and bus stops.

Underground Wi-Fi comes with risks

Last year, Boris Johnson vowed to provide Londoners with a city-wide blanket of Wi-Fi coverage by 2012 in a bid to make the UK capital one of the most connected cities in the world.

Besides the Tube platform, he said his vision was that “every lamppost, every bus stop” in London would become a Wi-Fi hotspot.

However, the Mayor’s plan has raised concerns among security experts who warned that the online access underground could make it easier for terrorists to target Tube commuters.

“There are lots of implications in terms of terrorism and security,” said Will Geddes, founder of ICP Group which is expert in reducing technology-related threats, adding Wi-Fi connectivity would allow a terror cell to communicate underground.

“This will enable people to use their laptop on the Tube as if it was a cell phone,” said Geddes.