WMATA plans improved cell phone services

All Metrorail riders will eventually have cell phone service in underground portions of the system under a plan approved last week, according to Candice Smith, a Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority spokeswoman.

WMATA is planning to construct a new wireless communications system throughout its Metrorail system, which will support Wi-Fi and all cell phone providers. The new system would carry broadband and expanded cell phone coverage in 47 underground stations and more than 50 miles of tunnels, according to a March 13 press release.

The Metro Board of Directors' finance committee approved plans for the new network March 13. It will take one-and-a-half years after the agreement is signed for the network to be functional in Metrorail's 20 busiest stations. All underground Metrorail stations will support the network within four years. The project will take that long because work can only be done while trains are not running, Smith said.

"We have a very small window to get not only this project done, but also important track work," she said.

Only Verizon Wireless phones and Sprint phones with roaming abilities currently get service in underground Metro stations. Verizon built Metro's existing network in 1993 and pays WMATA an annual fee. Other providers have always had the option to work out agreements with Verizon to provide service, but Sprint was the only company to take advantage of that option, Smith said.

Grant Duncan, a sophomore in the Kogod School of Business, said he appreciates that he is currently able to make calls while riding the Metro.

"Sprint offers free roaming, so I'm not really affected by the lack of service," he said.

Karin Curley, a freshman in the School of Communication, said she has Sprint but does not get service because her phone does not have roaming.

"It's so obnoxious that you don't get service," Curley said.

Metro is planning to correct this inconvenience by giving the company that bids the highest contract to build the network. This company will pay licensing fees to Metro and negotiate with other Internet and phone companies that request to provide service on the network.

The new system could generate between $200,000 and $2 million per year for WMATA, according to the press release.

Smith said she believes the system does need an upgrade.

"We're just looking forward to expanding cell phone service for our customers," she said.

Curley said she believes the upgrade is a good idea and will be helpful to riders.

"I think that it would be extremely beneficial for people who commute a lot on the Metro," she said.

Lori-Ann DeVoe, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she is looking forward to the new communication system because it will make it easier for her to contact friends.

"It's a really good thing because people can be reached at any point," she said. "You don't have to wait for a response"

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