August 18, 2009

D.C. Metro installing wireless service in rail stations

Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) Metrorail riders soon will be able to use four major cell phone providers to make calls or access the Internet from 20 of Metro’s busiest underground stations.

 

Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile began installing hardware at designated Metrorail stations this weekend that will allow Metrorail customers to make calls, send text messages or surf the Web from 20 stations starting October 16.

 

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 maintain the current wireless network. In exchange, Verizon built a public safety radio communications system for Metro. Verizon also pays annual fees to Metro.

 

Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile will build, operate, maintain and own the new wireless network that is currently being installed. The firms also will build a second wireless network, which Metro will own, operate and maintain for Metro’s own public safety and operational communications. The second network will support future plans to launch The Metro Channel, which 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 may gain access to the networks either through entering into agreements with Metro or the group of carriers, which would produce additional revenue for the transit agency.

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