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Improving Phone Coverage on Washington DC's Underground Railway

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The metro railway serving Washington D.C. has started deploying underground mobile phone coverage infrastructure, covering 20 of the Metro's busiest stations. The network, which will provide coverage for customers of Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T Mobile is expected to switch on in October.

During the next two months, the companies will install a wireless network at the following Metrorail stations: Ballston, Bethesda, Columbia Heights, Crystal City, Dupont Circle, Farragut North, Farragut West, Federal Center SW, 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.

Customers at those stations will begin to see large, cabinet-like enclosures that will house the hardware at the ends of station platforms or on mezzanines. New cables and antennae also will be installed as part of this work, which will take place late at night when the Metrorail system is closed

"This is the first phase of Metro's effort to bring expanded cell phone carrier service to the entire Metrorail system by 2012," said Suzanne Peck, Metro's Chief Information Officer. "After we complete the first 20 stations this fall, the carriers will install service at the remaining 27 underground stations by the fall of 2010. Customers will be able to use these carrier-provided wireless services in tunnels between stations by October 2012."

Riders can now receive cell phone service from multiple providers at above ground stations, but the current underground wireless network only supports Verizon customers and Sprint phones that roam onto the Verizon network. In 1993, Metro agreed to allow Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, which later became Verizon Wireless, to build and maintain the current wireless network. In exchange, Verizon built a public safety radio communications system for Metro. Verizon also pays annual fees to Metro.

"Customers have been asking for expanded cell phone and Internet access in the Metrorail system for a long time," said Metro General Manager John Catoe. "I'm extremely pleased that we will make that convenience a reality for customers at our busiest stations this fall."

Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile will build, operate, maintain and own the new wireless network that is currently being installed. 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 monitors in stations, trains and buses.

The wireless contract will generate a minimum of nearly $25 million during the initial 15-year term 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.

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