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4G Wireless Service Coming to Chicago's Subways

By Quinn Ford | October 3, 2013 12:17am | Updated on October 3, 2013 1:44pm
 The city said 4G service is coming to the subway system.
The city said 4G service is coming to the subway system.
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DNAinfo/Kyla Gardner

CHICAGO — The city said it plans to upgrade the wireless service in the subway, bringing 4G service to the 12 miles of underground CTA lines.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool announced the plan Thursday. The wireless network hardware that will be replaced dates to 2005 "and is beyond its useful life in that it only supports voice services and has limited data-support capabilities," the Mayor's Office said.

The CTA owns the wireless infrastructure serving the underground stretches of the Blue and Red lines and leases it to six major wireless service providers for about $1.8 million a year.

The new work is being paid by the CTA with money allotted for capital improvements, and the cost will be determined through a bidding process, the city said. The project will not include providing free wifi in the subway because that would require a separate infrastructure, officials said.

On Thursday morning, CTA riders at the Clark/Division Red Line stop had mixed feeling about the announcement.

Brittany Carter, 23, said her phone calls get dropped "all the time" while riding underground, and in hyper-connected world she has become accustomed to always having the Internet available.

"It'll be great," Carter said of the new service. "I don't think I need to be on my phone any more [than I already am], but it'll be nice to have."

Andrew Marshall, 30, was less enthusiastic about the news. He said a faster data connection would be nice, but he didn't mind when a call got dropped "every once in a while."

"To be honest, I don't care that much," he said. "As far as trying to get on the Internet, that'd be a good thing."

With a 4G network, riders will be able to access data throughout the subway system rather than in just some areas. The current network is a first generation wireless service that made CTA an "industry leader" when it was installed in 2005, said CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.

"At the time, it was pioneering," Hosinski said. "And it's still the only subway wireless system that's operational throughout the entire subway and has contracts with all regional service providers," Hosinski said.

CTA will be accepting bidder qualifications through November 14. Bidders who are approved will then submit proposals for the project, Hosinski said. A timetable for how long the project will take has not been announced.

Barring any "significant issues" during the bidding process, construction could begin as early as mid-2014, Hosinski said.