Chicago to upgrade rail system's wireless network

Posted on April 3, 2013

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) plans to upgrade the wireless communication network in its subways and underground facilities to increase the speed and reliability of its network, with the goal of ensuring that customers of all major wireless carriers will have continuous mobile phone service underground in all CTA subway tunnels.

As a first step, the CTA issued a Request for Information (RFI) bid to solicit responses from wireless telecommunication companies to determine the feasibility of designing, financing, installing, operating and maintaining a modern cellular infrastructure system in the 11.4 miles of CTA’s Red and Blue line tunnels and underground facilities.

“To be a world-class city, Chicago must have a world-class infrastructure, so that people can get around the city efficiently, safely, and productively,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “CTA is investing in all aspects of its infrastructure, from rails to stations to wireless access and as the quality of the service continues to improve, I am confident more and more passengers will use the system to get to work and school and enjoy their lives.”

The four-week RFI bid is intended to gather information through an interactive and collaborative process with interested parties, which will help CTA determine the estimated project budget, requirements and timeline for implementation. This information will form the basis of the official Request for Proposals (RFP), which will be issued at a later date. CTA will ultimately seek a neutral-host partner that can serve all wireless carriers. The goal of both the RFI and the RFP will be to find a partner that can provide CTA customers with uninterrupted wireless service.

Under the proposed project, CTA would ultimately own the new network; however, respondents would be solely responsible for funding their proposed projects. In addition to building and operating a vendor neutral-host network — which will allow any wireless service provider to operate on the system — the selected vendor will also be responsible for managing and negotiating third-party license agreements with major wireless service providers. Fees generated from the third-party licenses would be split with the managing vendor and CTA.

The CTA currently owns and leases its subway cellular network to six major wireless service providers, which generates approximately $1.8 million in non-farebox revenue for the agency annually.

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