"It's important for Metro customers to realize that, initially, expanded cell phone service is only from the platforms of 20 of our busiest underground stations," said Metro General Manager John Catoe. "Customers should expect to see continual improvement in their cell phone coverage and call quality as additional enhancements to the wireless network are made."
"This will really help people communicate. I am glad we are at this point," said Metro Board Chairman Jim Graham.
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless have installed hardware at no cost to Metro that will allow Metrorail customers to make calls, send text messages or surf the Web from inside the following 20 stations: Ballston, Bethesda, Columbia Heights, Crystal City, Dupont Circle, Farragut North, Farragut West, Federal Triangle, Foggy Bottom-GWU, Friendship Heights, Gallery Pl-Chinatown, Judiciary Square, L'Enfant Plaza, McPherson Square, Metro Center, Pentagon, Pentagon City, Rosslyn, Smithsonian and Union Station.
During the next few weeks, the team of cell phone providers will continue to enhance the wireless network at these stations to provide callers with continuous coverage from the street into each station. Customers also will have broadband data network access.
"In little more than two months, representatives from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless have worked around the clock with Metro employees to bring wireless service to Metro's top 20 underground stations," said Suzanne Peck, Metro's Chief Information Officer. "We are proud of their cooperation under such a tight deadline, and we look forward to continuing our partnership, which will bring wireless service to the remaining 27 underground stations and to the entire Metrorail system by October 2012."
As part of the new wireless network installation, large cabinets that house cellular electronics have been installed in stations in areas that do not impede the flow of customers or impact the safe operation of the Metrorail system. New cables and antennae also were installed late at night when the Metrorail system was closed.
Previously, Metro riders could only receive cell phone service from multiple providers at aboveground stations. Until now, the underground wireless network only supported Verizon customers and Sprint phones that roamed onto the Verizon network. In 1993, Metro agreed to allow Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, which later became Verizon Wireless, to build and maintain the first wireless network. In exchange, Verizon built a public safety radio communications system for Metro and paid annual fees to Metro. Verizon has offered wireless service in the Metrorail system since 1994.
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are responsible for owning, operating and maintaining the new wireless network. 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 video monitors in stations, trains and buses.
The wireless contract is expected to generate approximately $25 million for Metro during the initial 15-year contract 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.