Seattle Transit Blog

Tunnel Cell Service (Sort of) Starts Tuesday

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.