Channel Tunnel And Tube Set For Mobile Coverage


Channel Tunnel mobile phone coverage may arrive by 2012, just as the London Tube gets its own mobile network

The days of commuters being able to enjoy a quiet train carriage, free of mobile phone conversations, are nearing the end. Plans are in motion to bring network access to the Eurostar Channel Tunnel trains and London Underground’s rail system.

The Channel Tunnel could have a mobile phone network installed across  the entire 31.4 mile length of the tunnel in time for the 2012 Olympics if carriers’ proposals are accepted.

UK mobile operators including Vodafone, O2, Everything Everywhere and 3, have apparently  joined forces with their French counterparts (Orange, SFR and Bouygues) and, according to the Sunday Telegraph, will share the estimated £20 million cost of installing the mobile network in the tunnel. The newspaper also reported that Alcatel-Lucent has been contracted to install the technology.

International Spectrum Issues?

However, the idea of installing a mobile phone network in the tunnel is not exactly straight forward, as it involves the UK telecom’s regulator Ofcom issuing spectrum licences to allow French and British operators to share airwaves inside the tunnel.

But in a remarkably straightforward decision, the installation costs will be split between French and UK operators, depending on the direction of travel. For example the UK operators will pay for the Dover to Calais tunnel, whereas the French counterparts will pay for the Calais to Dover route.

The idea of being able to use a mobile phone underground is not new. The Paris Metro already has the ability for commuters to use their mobiles while underground and London hopes to have the same option for the Tube in time for the 2012 Olympic games. This is because, back in September this year, Mayor Boris Johnson set a 2012 deadline for mobile phones on the Underground.

Underground Coverage Plus Wi-Fi

Johnson reportedly took it upon himself to “bash heads together” in the mobile phone industry to make sure the plan goes ahead and that the mobile phone operators share the estimated £100 million plus cost of installing mobile coverage deep underground.

Co-incidentally he had also been pushing for mobile coverage for the London to Paris Eurostar service.

The plan to extend the mobile networks to the London Underground has been kicking around now for a number of years, but has been thwarted by the high installation cost. Back in 2005 for example, Johnson’s predecessor, Mayor Ken Livingstone, asked for pitches on how best to bring a mobile network to the transport network but the plans were shelved in 2009.

And it is not just mobile phones. Soon London commuters may also be able to surf the internet while using the Underground, after BT installed a Wi-Fi trial at Charing Cross tube station.

Johnson has previously pledged full Wi-Fi coverage for the whole of London. Then, in June this year, he also said that Wi-Fi access plans would include bus stops and the London Underground.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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