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Time Tunnel

23/3/08

I want to tell you about a place with a tech-savvy, affluent, multi-cultural  population of three million with no mobile coverage:

London Underground. Most metros have mobile coverage, but the oldest and most extensive in the world does not. Looking at spectrum auctions around the world the rights to cover the tube is worth of the order of half a billion pounds. If London Underground set up an MNVO it could milk the cattle it crammed into the carriages as they roamed.

London Underground announced the Connect Project in 1995. A system to unify communications systems and bring them up to date. Much of the tunnel system is Victorian and communications isn’t much newer. One system uses bare wires running the length of the tunnel. If the driver wants to speak he stops, winds down the window and attaches a mike with a pair of crocodile clips.

The Connect project was awarded in 1996 to a consortium of Motorola, Thales, Flour Laing Investment and HSBC. To be rolled out over three years. Connect  uses TETRA and is very similar to the Airwave system the Police are using.

It would be possible to put in GSM/TETRA bridges and have mobile coverage. This would just be stations and platforms: in-tunnel coverage could be added if it was deemed acceptable by the passengers. Back then mobiles were still the sign of conspicuous wealth in the shadow of the yuppie.

It took a year to sign the contract,  then things got worse. The project slipped faster than it progressed. The current plan is for it to be complete at the end of 2008. Twelve years for a three year project. A system with a data speed of 2400bps.

But it gets worse. Remember I said that the system was similar to Airwave? It should be trivial to make the systems compatible. Just a matter of different crystals – OK, so it’s not crystals anymore it’s a PLL or whatever.  Police in pursuit should not be cut off when they slide down the world’s deepest escalator at Angel. Unfortunately contracts signed by the investors state what frequencies will be used, so they would need to be changed to allow Airwave compatibility. Those partners,  having sunk millions in a hole in the ground want something back if there are to be any changes in the contracts which makes revisions impossible.

The solution: do nothing. Wait until Connect is installed and then install a separate Airwave compatible system.

On July 7th 2005 when the Underground was bombed and 52 people died the police had to resort to a system that predates the Victorians and goes back to the ancient Greeks: they sent runners down the tunnels.

 

 

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