Wi-fi scheme for Tube passengers could be in place by 2012 Games
Tube passengers could be checking emails on their laptops by next year (picture copyright TfL 2005)
London Underground has invited telecoms providers to bid for a contract to provide wi-fi technology across the Tube network.
The contract for wi-fi provision at up to 120 stations across the network will be awarded to the chosen bidder by the end of this year and could see passengers logging on the internet using their laptops or mobile devices by June next year - in time for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The bid follows a successful trial of wi-fi technology at Charing Cross Tube station, which began last November in conjunction with BT Openzone to test the service and gauge passenger feedback.
The first phase of wider wi-fi provision on the Tube would be to make available the service currently used by London Underground (LU) staff at 16 stations for passenger use, before the service is extended to other Underground stations.
Over half of LU passengers surveyed during the Charing Cross trial said that access to wi-fi would make their experience of using the Tube better.
Many said they wanted to see the service rolled out to more stations on the Underground and that connecting to a wireless broadband hotspot with a wi-fi enabled device at a Tube station would be very useful.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "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.
"We are inviting companies to bid to do this before next June, which would mean that even Londoners going underground will be able to keep up to date with the British medal tally at the 2012 Games."
LU expects the tender to be of interest to existing service providers and other established internet service providers looking to expand into the public wi-fi market.
As well as improving journeys for passengers, wi-fi services are a potential future revenue source for LU.
The tender is for the provision of wi-fi services at stations and will allow passengers to access their emails anywhere in the station, although it will not extend to trains.
This 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 shelters or bus hubs.
A contract notice will appear in the Official Journal of the European Union later this month and the tender is also being advertised in the national press next Tuesday.
Transport for London (TfL) and Mayor Johnson are currently in discussion with mobile phone operators and other suppliers about the potential provision of mobile phone services on the deep Tube network.
TfL stress that any solution would need to be funded through mobile operators to ensure no cost to Tube fares or taxpayers.
The trial at Charing Cross Tube station is ongoing and customers will continue to be able to access wi-fi at the station until later this year.
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