London’s tube trains are unique in that, whilst underground, they’re entirely isolated from the outside world. There’s no phone signal strong enough to penetrate the earth above the tunnels.
Outside of London’s notorious rush-hour, the tube has a sort-of peaceful environment. People just stare silently at the network map or the array of ads above them, contemplating their day. The only noise, aside from the train itself, is the bass of a song blasting from someone’s headphones.
This quiet reflection time will be a thing of the past as London mayor Sadiq Khan plans to introduce full 4G coverage to the network, starting in 2019. In a letter sent to the leaders of all 33 London local authorities, Sadiq Khan said he plans on “delivering 4G mobile connectivity to London Underground, both in station and tunnels from 2019, future-proofed ready for 5G.”
Passengers will be able to take and receive phone calls, Skype, FaceTime, send texts and use the internet while in the tunnels.
But Londoners aren’t too pleased by the news.
Back in 2012, TfL started rolling out wifi in tube stations ahead of the Olympic Games in London that year. Travellers didn’t welcome the development, “I don’t think it’s that practical with people rushing in and out of tubes, unless you could use it throughout the entire commute” said one customer.
There’s something nice about disconnecting from the outside world when using the tube. It’s an opportunity to escape Slack and read a book or the newspaper, or listen to music undisturbed.
A study in 2014, involving researchers from the University of Florida, Michigan State University and the University of Washington, found that workers are so attached to their phones, they’re making themselves exhausted and unproductive as a result.
But Londoners are also concerned about their fellow travellers. If rush-hour wasn’t unpleasant enough, add people talking on their phones to the boiling pot of tired and stressed commuters and you get a recipe for disaster.
Ffs, literally the only good thing about the tube is not having to listen to people honking down their phone at their awful friends. https://t.co/c6pzSGeqyN
— Steven Perkins (@stevenperkins) May 31, 2017
This development was inevitable though and plenty of people and organisations welcome the news.
The UK Home Office is currently improving the communications network used by emergency services, moving from the existing Airwave system to one based on the 4G network, built by EE. Phone service on the underground will allow the British Transport Police to access their radios while using the service, improving security across the network.
Phone signal on the city’s primary public transport puts London on par with other cities like Seoul, Tokyo, New York, Paris and Amsterdam.