Metro red line riders in LA to get WiFi, cell phone service

WiFi and cell service are on the way for Metro underground train passengers.

Last week, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began working on a two-year, $800,000 project to install wireless connectivity in four red line stations by May, while cell service will be available to the line’s 150,000 daily passengers by August, said Robert Fischer, Metro’s systems project manager.

“Providing cell phone service to Metro patrons will enhance response-time during emergencies,” states a report filed by Fischer to the Metro board when the contract for the project was awarded about two years ago.

Metro has contacted InSite Wireless, LLC, which will then bring WiFi from the Westlake to Wilshire/Western and Wilshire Vermont to Vermont/Sunset stations. The installation of cell service at these purple and red line stations are scheduled for completion by June 2016. The final phase will bring wireless Internet to the North Hollywood station and in the underground portions of the Gold Line in Pasadena and East Los Angeles by November 2016.

Cell service will be live in these areas by March 2017.

Cell service will be accessible on platforms and in moving trains, but WiFi will only be available on the platforms, Fischer said.

Work on the project begins nearly two years after Metro obtained the contract as engineers were figuring out where to put the 2,000-square-foot “base station hotel” that will hold all equipment for cell phone providers that participate in the Metro network.

Security and interference issues between first responders also had to be addressed.

Some agency sources said Metro could not start until it took necessary measures to ensure a terrorist would not be able to detonate a bomb in the subway using a mobile phone. This issue is being handled by wireless providers participating in Metro’s network.

Additionally, “mathematical processes” were required to figure out what frequencies to use for cell phone exchanges that would not interfere with Los Angeles police radio communications, the County Sheriff’s Department and other fire departments, Fischer said.

The project timeline is scheduled as such, because the installation can only occur when trains are not in motion, which is approximately between 1 to 4 am

“It is much more complicated than you would think to do this,” said Metro spokesperson Kim Upton.

There will be 13 cell sites installed between Union Station and 7th/Metro, Upton said.

Other major subway systems – including those in the Bay Area, Boston, New York and Washington D.C. — have had cell (and WiFi, in some areas,) service available for years.

The BART however, canceled its WiFi service recently due to poor performance, according to BART spokesman Jim Allison, but cell service remains popular.

(With reports from CBS and Los Angeles Daily News)

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