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What will cellular service be like on the TTC?

Posted by Chris Bateman / October 23, 2012

toronto subway carLuddites beware. Cellular signal (and phone conversations with it) could be about to head underground if the TTC votes to accept a contract offer from an Australian telecommunications company.

Under the plans, Broadcast Australia Pty Ltd. will pay the TTC $25 million over the next 20 years to install and run an underground cellular and Wi-Fi network in 61 current and planned stations similar to the one currently running on the New York City subway.

There, cellular signals are sent through fibre-optic cables from a central control unit to small wireless base stations at each platform and ticket hall. Service providers pay to have their signal included in the subterranean offerings.

The TTC contact is dependent on Broadcast Australia being able to sign up at least 60 per cent of Toronto's current cellphone providers - Bell, Rogers, etc. In other words, you won't get signal (unless it's an emergency) if you're with a carrier that is unable to forge an agreement with BA. That said, the TTC stipulates each carrier must have equal opportunity to participate. The new Wi-Fi network will be free and open to smartphone, tablet, and laptop users alike.

toronto subway telephoneThe concept has been in the works since 2009 when the TTC first invited companies interested in creating an underground network to submit proposals. Bids from Bell Mobility and Extenet Systems, a Chicago company, fell by the wayside, leaving Broadcast Australia on its own. Though service is supposed to be limited to stations, there's a chance signal will bleed down the tunnels where the stops are close together.

"This is a convenience for customers but it does allow us to communicate better," says the TTC's Brad Ross, "we have an e-alert subscription base that continues to grow in addition to social media like Twitter. When there is a problem you will get that information on your cellphone and you in turn can make some decisions and calls to work or home."

The first step will be to set up a trial service in two as yet unidentified stations. There's a very slight chance the wireless base stations could interfere with the subway's wireless signal system or cause other undesirable effects, though this doesn't seem to be an issue in above ground parts of the system.

This doesn't mean the end of the humble subway payphone, however. "They will always be there, for the foreseeable future anyway," says Ross. "Not everybody has a cellphone and they are important to things like our Crisis Link suicide prevention program and 911."

If everything goes to plan the new service will be functional across all stations in 2 to 4 years.

What are your thoughts on this? It seems like adding cell reception could actually become a money-maker for the financially squeezed TTC, but is it worth it? Will you use your phone on the subway? Speak up below.

Photos: "Claustrophobic" by Lyndsay Jobe and "Telephones - Jane Station" by Kevo89 in the blogTO Flickr pool.

Discussion

39 Comments

Ron / October 23, 2012 at 02:52 pm
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As I've previously mentioned. The TTC was completely against Cell phones down under, saying it was a huge security risk, since bombs could be remotely detonated by phones at a specific moment, or other attacks could be coordinated. They seemed genuinely concerned for the ridership. Then along comes an Australian company with a wheelbarrow full of cash, and suddenly the 'security threats' are no longer an issue? It's amazing what kind of peace 25 million can buy, rather than 2.5.
luddite / October 23, 2012 at 03:14 pm
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"Luddites beware."

right- because only luddites have an aversion to public cellphone use in a contained space.
Rob / October 23, 2012 at 03:32 pm
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Just curious, what happened in the 1960s when the train was stuck in a tunnel? Did faces melt? Was there general malarkey, or God forbid, a donnybrook right in the middle of the car?

The self-importance of our society continues to dumb us down further, and instead, we cherish it. We say things like, "it's about time" and "LOL finally".
Rob / October 23, 2012 at 03:33 pm
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If you can't leave the phone off for an hour, I'm stunned that your brain is able to transmit a signal to your extremities.
Jason / October 23, 2012 at 03:34 pm
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Still not enough. Living in Seoul in '98 there was complete coverage in the whole subway network including tunnels. Way better than the 3rd world technotard nation that is Canada.
mar / October 23, 2012 at 03:37 pm
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uh... useful? what type of answer are you looking for here?
Qaf / October 23, 2012 at 04:03 pm
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So this company will pay the TTC millions of dollars to install an underground network? If it helps fund a Downtown Relief Line or better TTC service, I'm all for it ...
Jeremy replying to a comment from Rob / October 23, 2012 at 04:10 pm
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Just curious, what happened in the 1960s when something in the public sphere happened and there were no blogs where you could go to comment?

Or should we never try to improve anything if it's possible to live without it?
Rob replying to a comment from Jeremy / October 23, 2012 at 04:16 pm
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You make a valid point.

However, you might want to rethink that when you're sandwiched between some douchebag yelling at his assistant and a Finch baby mama trying to book a nail appointment.
Ratazana replying to a comment from Qaf / October 23, 2012 at 04:18 pm
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Do not be fooled by this 25M over 20 years deal.
Hong Kong subway system gets a approx $3M per operator per year. Wireless companies there effectively pays for the right to use subway tunnels and stations & they themselves have to build and maintain the wireless signal facility.
$25M over 20 years to me is a horrible deal consider it has inflation factored in and no increase if more wireless operator gets into the market.
Rob / October 23, 2012 at 04:19 pm
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Which is to say the number of people using cell service on the subway for anything other than the continuance of their self-important "busy lives" is negligible. There is nothing on this planet that cannot wait one hour.
Rob / October 23, 2012 at 04:23 pm
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Ultimately, I don't want this to go through because the subway feels like the last place left where I'm not forced to make snappy-finger motions to get someone's attention. Seeing as the first thing most of us do is after work is hop on the subway, it might be nice to have just one place where everyone isn't married to their phones or their social lives or office politicking.

I guess not. It's called progress. I call it scary shit.
Ben / October 23, 2012 at 04:27 pm
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Ugh. Frankly, I like that there is one last vestige of cell-phone-free space in the city. I hope this bid falls through, too. How long is your underground commute, really? Your call can wait.

On hot days, when the subway is crowded and it gets stuck, it's already virtually unbearable. If every jackass in the car was also yammering on his/her cell phone it would be absolute torture.

Plus, this will limit our ability to use subway delays as an excuse for being late to work since now your boss will be able to say "Why didn't you call me?"
Kmac / October 23, 2012 at 04:29 pm
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Could this not increase ridership on an already crowded system? People that may need access to there phones at all time may be discouraged from riding the subway. Now that they have that they may choose to ride. Also, would it not be in there best interest (bell, rogers, telus) to spend the money building it themselves? Thousands of people, thousands more spent on their device seems like something those greedy pigs would be all over.
Jeremy replying to a comment from Rob / October 23, 2012 at 04:30 pm
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Ok, then we should probably put cell service jammers in busses, streetcars, subways where they run above ground, malls, the path, high traffic sidewalks, etc. I live in a city packed full of people, I expect to hear them on a regular basis. If I need to tune them out, I can put in ear buds. If I want quiet, I go to a place where there's less people, not where they're denser than anywhere else.

Personally, I think overhearing a few phone calls is a small price to pay for the ability to communicate (I'll mostly be texting), getting transit status updates and a chance to read news on my phone. People not familiar with the area will welcome the chance to looks at maps of where they're going.

Besides, at least for the time being, phone calls should be relatively short, given that they'll mostly get disconnected in between stations. But I guess that does mean we'll have to go through another round of complaints when they inevitably fill the gaps.
the lemur replying to a comment from Ron / October 23, 2012 at 04:36 pm
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What happened is that the TTC - if they ever thought that a cellphone could detonate a bomb, but only using cellphone service - smartened up. You can make a detonator out of a phone (or something else), but you don't need cellphone service to do it.

http://www3.ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Commission_reports_and_information/Commission_meetings/2012/October_24/Supplementary_Reports/Wireless_Network_in_.pdf

And as for what happened in the '60s, most likely it got hot, smelly and most likely dark and people had to rely on PA announcements. That's not what we want from the TTC.
j-rock replying to a comment from Jason / October 23, 2012 at 04:45 pm
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From what I hear, Korea's still there. You could always go back, or just STFU.

And 1998 sounds REALLY early for anyone to have had full wi-fi coverage in their subway system. Tokyo's had it for a while in stations, but only got full coverage in tunnels last year, and NYC and London only got it earlier this year.
Duane / October 23, 2012 at 05:01 pm
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I'd have no problem with people talking/texting on the TTC (I mean it happens on buses and street cars anyways) if they would ban food/drink consumption. I mean, you can only hear most conversations a few metres away, but the food smell and mess left behind affect the whole car.
Amy / October 23, 2012 at 05:54 pm
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I completely agree with your comments, Rob and Ben, well-said!
Jose replying to a comment from Ben / October 23, 2012 at 06:07 pm
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I very valid point on the "late for work because" excuse.

No sarcasm intended. Needless to say, it will be difficult to come up with a more valid excuse for being late.

Hopefully, cell service in elevators remains in the dark lol.
the future / October 23, 2012 at 07:16 pm
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welcome to the future, old people.
if you don't like it, leave toronto.
Michael / October 23, 2012 at 08:30 pm
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Cannot bother to read all the other comments to see if this was mentioned (a quick "ctrl + f" suggests it wasn't) though I noticed Seoul was: Paris has had reception underground (yes, even in the tunnels) for as long as I can remember. Yes, Paris. PARIS!

Not exactly a city living on the edge of modernity!

Then again, they also have a rail link to their airport. They seem to understand the art of priorité.
Bubba / October 23, 2012 at 08:42 pm
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smart phones, stupid people.

i'm at college, oh wait now i'm at dundas, no now i'm at queen...
luddite replying to a comment from the future / October 23, 2012 at 08:59 pm
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"welcome to the future, old people.
if you don't like it, leave toronto."

i bet you're the kind of mensch that leaps to offer his seat to the elderly. don't ever change, you beautiful human.
Awesome! / October 23, 2012 at 09:31 pm
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Awesome, now I can have phone sex on the subway!
Gul Jassad replying to a comment from Jason / October 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm
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Have you ever considered MOVING to Korea and staying there? Although I support this, I'm getting tired of attitudes like yours about Toronto, and this pushing up of Korea as it it's a wonderland when it really isn't; it still needs to advance a lot more in HUMAN and CULTURAL qualities just as much as technical.

Check out this blog (http://metropolitician.blogs.com/) and then come back to me (and the rest of your fellow Torontonians) when you don't have a big stick up your ass.
Toronto My Way / October 23, 2012 at 10:43 pm
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One of the best things about this is, when a train stops and the official TTC announcement is garbled and incomprehensible, we'll be able to connect to Twitter to find out from real people what's really going on.

Could this advance be abused? Sure, just like most everything else that can be used for good can also be used for evil. However, either way, progress has got to happen, and this is progress.

I'm hopeful that the noise from the train itself will discourage attempting to maintain any lengthy conversation, but the consolation is that text or email will be viable options for communicating with the outside world.
Gul Jassad replying to a comment from Michael / October 23, 2012 at 11:10 pm
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Hey Mike, since you're all so hep to bash Toronto transit for not having an airport link, but haven't said what else the RATP has that beats Toronto, some questions:

*Is Paris's subway open until 1:50 in the morning, like ours? (in all fairness, Madrid's and New York's is open 24-7/365.)

*Does it off Blue Night Network transit on surface routes, like ours?

*Does it offer 'Stop Request' for women travelling at night, like ours?

*Does it offer Designated Waiting Areas for women and others so that they feel safe while waiting for a subway train, like ours?

*Do their buses offer front bike racks, like ours do?

*Do their buses lower to accept handicapped passengers, like ours do?

*Do they have a version of Wheel-Trans, like we do here?

*Do their subway trains announce the next stop, like ours do here?

*Are their subway trains equipped with air conditioning, like ours are here?

*Do their subway stations have elevators for the handicapped, like ours are being modified to have eventually?

*And finally, do they have longer hours on holidays (New Year's Eve and the like) as we do?

We can play the game of what transit system has an airport link and whatever, but I'd say that while Toronto has a way to go on that, at least it has all of the other things that a 21st century transit system SHOULD have.
josh / October 24, 2012 at 12:33 am
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Please no.

As first commenter mentioned it poses a huge security risk, major annoyance and safety, no more radiation
Mr Smith replying to a comment from Gul Jassad / October 24, 2012 at 01:53 pm
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Madrid does NOT have 24/7 subway service...
The subway lines close at 1am depending where you are coming from.
I am sure all the comments you have made above most transit systems have in some capacity.

Im all for cell phone service on platforms and in tunnels.

So what if people talk on the phone. Who are you to say otherwise.
Time to get off your high horse and STFU.

You dont like it? Then buy a car and drive to work...

Its funny how almost every other transit system has had this for years and i never hear any problems with people talking on phones.

This is the problem with Toronto, Everyone wants us to become this "World Class" city but only if not a single person is bothered by improvements or advancement.

If you dont like the direction that Toronto is going and catching up to the rest of the world, I suggest you drive 6 hours north and live there so you wont be bothered by me speaking on my phone and how im soooo hungover from the night before.
Gul Jassad replying to a comment from Mr Smith / October 24, 2012 at 03:59 pm
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Obviously you've got some reading comprehension problems, Mr. Smith; nowhere in my first response did I say that I was against the idea of having cellphone service on the TTC-I was just objecting to the TTC bashing (AND Toronto bashing) that two other people had posted.

Although it'll be annoying having to hear about the fine details of somebody's private affairs, I can put up with it some what by moving to another seat, or getting an MP3 player to listen to music while travelling on the subway someplace.

And I'm sorry for you, but not every advancement or change is good or even great for Toronto to go through; having overpriced condos being built that destroy the ambiance of the ONLY cool part of Toronto that exists is not worth having a ton of one room rabbit hutches being built, for example. Some changes should be accepted, some should be fought and destroyed if they are wrong or do any harm to present or future generations. What those are, we'll have to figure out, but again, not all change is good or great.

Thanks for the heads-up correction about the Madrid Metro.
Alex / October 24, 2012 at 04:25 pm
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Nice. I don't like it when I'm meeting people and if someone's late we don't know if they're one stop away or 15. Or if the subway is really delayed and I'm underground and someone is expecting me.

Wow, obviously most people commenting here never take the subway. Why does everyone who doesn't take it think it's quiet? The subway is loud, loud enough you have to shout to have a conversation with the person next to you. That's only on the Yonge line too, with the newer trains. I can't imagine how loud and screechy the Bloor line is. I really doubt someone next to you having a phone conversation is going to bother you more than the ear splitting squeal of the wheels on the tracks as they take a turn. Also, you realize you live in a city with other people, right? You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want peace and quiet, live in the burbs. If you want amenities and a short commute (if you work there) live in the city.
TTC Hater / October 24, 2012 at 04:40 pm
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Reality is the system will be used for data not voice. As Alex said the subway is way too loud for voice calls.

But when the subway is delayed which is frequent it is good that we can finally communicate said delays.

Often even though the Avenue line would be faster for me to get home, I take Yonge just so that I can have cell access when above ground after Bloor.

The TTC is being paid for this, where is the downside?
Gul Jassad replying to a comment from TTC Hater / October 24, 2012 at 07:06 pm
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When a delay happens (for whatever reason that's usually out of the control of the TTC), it happens; if you're foolish enough to not have left early to go where you wanted to and (like most people) probably caught the streetcar/subway to get where you were going hoping to beat whatever time limit was imposed, it serves you right that you're late for whatever it is you were travelling on the TTC to do. As you said, at least you'll be able to tell people why you're going to be late.
Mr Smith replying to a comment from Gul Jassad / October 25, 2012 at 12:29 am
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Sorry, I was not directing the comments towards you.
I was only correcting you about the Madrid Metro part.

The rest of the comments were for the rest of the NIMBYS that want cell service down there but do not want to hear anyone talking on the phone.

And yes you are right.
If you or I dont want to hear the intimate details of someones life, there is always our earphones and music turned up full blast (probably louder then the phone conversation) or thankfully for the new subway trains with open gangways, we can move to another more "quieter" train car.
Alex replying to a comment from Gul Jassad / October 26, 2012 at 02:19 pm
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Wow, someone is seriously bitter. You're right, everyone should always leave an hour earlier than they need to just in case some random emergency happens and we get delayed. Or, we could just live normally and accept sometimes bad things happen. Either one.
wifi / October 26, 2012 at 02:24 pm
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Why not just have wi-fi available? Though there are apps that will allow you to call via wi-fi from smart phones (facetime in subway?), but having access to wi-fi can be helpful at times (ie. checking TTC alerts, emailing for late meetings, or killing travel time browsing on phone, etc.) If the wi-fi reception has reasonable coverage and stability I am sure it can improve few aspects of the riders without having to listen to people talking loudly on the phone.

Greyhound, Mega Bus and Via trains offer wi-fi on the bus with limited bandwidth availability (no downloads bigger than 10mb) and it helps travelers do their business. Sure TTC ride won't be as long as bus or train rides, but if you are making your way across the city, it takes about an hour or more.

I say nay to cell phone coverage, but descent wi-fi service.
Gul Jassad replying to a comment from Alex / October 26, 2012 at 06:49 pm
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Me, bitter? Over this? More like annoyed at people who can't plan trips properly, and think that the TTC is like using a transporter to beam you from one place to another.. Only it isn't and yes, they should do so.

As for how fast the streetcar goes, don't people think that said streetcars would be a lot faster if there weren't so many cars allowed on the main streets of downtown Toronto?
Chicago movers Yelp / April 5, 2013 at 03:21 am
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Hi! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?
My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no data backup.

Do you have any solutions to stop hackers?

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