LA Subway System To Finally Gain Cellphone, Wi-Fi Service

For as progressive as California can be, the Red Line subway in Los Angeles is behind the times when it comes to underground Wi-Fi and cellphone capabilities, both of which it lacks. However, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is looking to change that by announcing a two-year, $800,000 project that will bring Wi-Fi service to four underground stations of the Red Line subway by May, and in-tunnel cellular service by August.

Los Angeles is catching up to subway systems in other areas such as Washington D.C., Boston, parts of New York, and the Bay Area that already offer underground cellphone service and, in some cases, Wi-Fi access. Part of the reason why L.A. fell behind is because of delays over security concerns related to interference with radio talk between first responders -- this set construction back by nearly two years after the contract was awarded.

Red Line

The four underground Red Line subway stations in L.A. serves about 150,000 daily riders. After work on those stations is completed, Metro's contractor, InSite Wireless, LLC, will get to work serving other subway stations in California in three different phases, ending with the Red Line terminus in North Hollywood and in the tunnel sections of the Gold Line light-rail in Pasadena and East Los Angeles by November 2016, with cellular service being rolled out by 2017.

More than just a convenience to passengers, this is also a safety issue. Once cellular service is added, passengers in the area will for the first time able to dial 9-1-1 while on a train or in an underground station.

The entire process is more complicated than it would appear on the surface. For one, city planners had to work with police and fire departments to figure out what frequencies to carry cellular service to avoid interfering with radio communications. And secondly, there's a brief window as to when cell phone antennas can be installed, which is when trains aren't running -- typically from around 1 AM to 4 AM.