Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

If you commute on Link between Westlake and UW, you may notice something a little different beginning this afternoon: cell service. Sound Transit has announced that the long-awaited addition begins today and will be rolled out over the coming months in (many) phases. For various administrative reasons and because each carrier has to sign a license agreement with the contractor (Mobilitie), the service will roll out carrier by carrier and tunnel segment by tunnel segment. The vendor also has an option to extend service from UW to the Maple Leaf Portal in 2021.

T-Mobile customers are the lucky ones, as they now have service between Westlake-UW. Verizon is expected to be added in a couple weeks, and then AT&T. (As of press time Sprint has not yet signed a contract.) Later this fall, the 3 carriers will be added to the Metro-owned segment from Westlake-International District, and finally Beacon Hill will get service sometime in 2017. For now, riders between Westlake-IDS will need to continue using WiFi on the ends of each platform to send and receive data.

Though a new etiquette campaign will surely be needed to dissuade loud phone talkers from spoiling commutes, cell service has been needed for a long time, and it’s good to see it finally happening. Enduring service disruptions and planning bus transfers depends on data, and underground will no longer be the worst place to be when trying to plan your day. Yay!

Sound Transit’s full press release below the jump…

Phased rollout getting underway for transit tunnel cell phone service

UW-Westlake segment starts first, to be followed by downtown, Beacon Hill in early 2017

Sound Transit has partnered with wireless infrastructure provider, Mobilitie, to design and install a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) network that will allow transit riders to use their cell phones while traveling underground. The DAS network, which has been under construction since earlier this year, is beginning a phased rollout this week. By late September, the Mobilitie network will provide wireless cellphone coverage to the tunnel between University of Washington and Westlake in Downtown Seattle, followed later this fall to the tunnels in Downtown Seattle and to Beacon Hill in 2017.

All cell phone service providers in Seattle will have the opportunity to access the tunnel DAS network through license agreements with Mobilitie, which is funding and maintaining the network under an agreement with Sound Transit. Starting this week, T-Mobile customers will be the first to have cell access between University of Washington and Westlake. Verizon and AT&T customers are scheduled to have access next month, with Sprint coming soon.

Mobilitie also has the option to provide cell service in the 8.2 miles of new tunnels and two underground stations under construction as part of the Northgate light rail extension opening in 2021.

The underground coverage will not only enable riders to enjoy more productive commutes but make it easier for Sound Transit to communicate with riders and will improve safety and security underground.

Mobilitie, which is one the largest privately held telecommunications infrastructure companies in the United States, partners with cities and municipalities across the country to deploy indoor and outdoor neutral host DAS network, next generation small cell sites, and other infrastructure that provides local residents with enhanced mobile connectivity and wireless broadband access. Its high-density wireless infrastructure is designed to enable rich, interactive mobile experiences, including real-time video streaming, 5G, and other mobile applications.

25 Replies to “Tunnel Cell Service (Sort of) Starts Tuesday”

  1. Hurray! Been waiting a long time for this roll out. The new Downtown wi-fi has been okay but mobile data will be so much more useful.

  2. Wow! Ok pleasantly surprised to see T-Mobile being first.

    “Though a new etiquette campaign will surely be needed to dissuade loud phone talkers from spoiling commutes” I doubt it, since most of Link is above ground and people can already use their cellphones on Link there.

    1. “Pleasantly surprised” and “(Sort of)”: What slams! T-Mobile is changing this industry. I’m glad to be their customer.

    2. “Though a new etiquette campaign will surely be needed to dissuade loud phone talkers from spoiling commutes…”

      If you believe that, I’ve got a tunnel under Seattle to sell you.

    3. I’m more worried about the phone scrollers turning themselves into penguins and monkeys by the door.

  3. I noticed it working last week and I have T-Mobile. Glad it is a local cellular company that got the contract.

  4. I’d rather see WiFi, honestly. Having that in the downtown bus tunnel has been wonderful.

  5. I wonder if/when we’ll get some kind of underground location services? It seems like a challenge of coordination more than anything else. It wouldn’t be hard to have a sequence of wifi routers or cellular or other equipment that your phone could see and use to approximate where you are along the line. It would be a huge pain to standardize it and get the world’s transit agencies, cell phone makers, service providers, and map-app makers to agree to a system.

    (Obviously you could spoof the GPS signal and you’d have seamless integration, but that would be incredibly difficult.)

    1. Location works ok (not perfect but ok) underground in lots of places already. It will probably work here too.

    2. Location services typically use Assisted GPS, which augment the GPS position with cell tower triangulation. That’s why location works indoors where GPS does not work well. The same should be true underground.

  6. Maybe, at some point, Uber’s app will be smart enough to detect when you’re on a train and enable a “pick me up at the next station” button. Vs. the status quo, where you have to drag the pin around the map to the point where you’re going to get off.

  7. Bummer, this was about the only place you could get away from the ever annoying people talking on their phone. Amazing people can’t live without service for the 20 minutes their in the tunnel. Oh well.

    1. A couple times, I’ve been in a situation where I’m coming home from the airport full of luggage and want to arrange an Uber ride home from the UW Station. Before, I couldn’t even pull out the app until I made it all the way up to the surface, which would typically mean about 10 minutes of waiting for the ride to show up. Now, that extra waiting can be eliminated by booking the ride from the train as soon as the train leaves Capitol Hill Station.

      And, it’s not just Uber. If you’re calling a family member to pick you up, when the train arrives, the same thing applies.

      1. I will love the ability to check OneBusAway as I’m approaching Capitol Hill station, so that I can actually take the correct exit when I find that once again the 11 is so delayed that I can walk the 2.5 miles home before it gets to me — and take the 8 instead and walk the last mile. Right now I go up to the park, often to find that the 11 has been so delayed since I last checked OBA prior to entering the station downtown that I need to walk back over and catch the 8.

  8. In the photograph at the top:

    Why is Community Transit’s mascot wandering around in Capitol Hill station? That’s the one tunnel station that DOESN’T have a community transit bus going to it.

  9. I can’t speak for SoundTransit, but….

    The arrival displays that TriMet uses apparently need the cell phone data stream in order to provide accurate displays. Maybe those used by ST are the same way?

    In which case, this development also means that the real time arrival data may be one step closer.

  10. I like many others are interested in how/if this new cell service will help/hinder the Assisted GPS and WiFI based location services of our phones.

    Some of this I surmise has to do with how Mobilitie has implemented this. I know these things use a radiating/leaky cable, but will the whole IDS to UW station network be on one cell connected to multiple cables or will it be a cell per station? or something different?

    I wonder if STB could reach out to their ST media contact to see if they have any idea of how/if this’d work?

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