By early next year, subway riders should be able to use their mobile devices at dozens more underground stations. NY1 Transit Reporter Jose Martinez takes a behind-the-scenes look at how the century-old subway system is being prepped for wireless reception.
You can tap out a text, check your email or even place a phone call from 36 Manhattan subway stations, but not without more than 100 miles of fiber optic cables running to them from a 12th-floor office.
It's the nerve center of Transit Wireless, the company that's one year into a five-year, $200 million project to bring wireless and cell service to all underground stations.
"This is where history meets technology," said Bill Bayne, CEO of Transit Wireless.
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have set up equipment that connects to the company's fiber optic network, which stretches beneath city streets and into access points at subway stations.
"We interconnect and put a point of entry into each station, and pull our fiber into the equipment at each station," Bayne said.
Wireless service arrived at stations along 14th Street in 2011, then expanded in April to dozens of stations on Manhattan's West Side, from 14th to 96th Streets.
"To us, it's not really overly important what the rider sees that goes into it," said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. "It's obviously a complicated process, but our main goal is really to enhance the customer experience while they're underground, and this goes a long way toward achieving that."
Next up is stations on the East Side and in Queens, where riders are set to get connected early next year.
"Work stuff, I miss texts, all this stuff," said one rider. "The faster we can get more stations, the better."
"It would be helpful," said another. "If you need to reach somebody for an emergency, you can contact them underground."
The fiber optic cables can run only six miles from the base station, so Transit Wireless will need to open another in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn and one each in the Bronx and Queens to blanket every stop.
The MTA says that all 277 underground stations should be ready for cell and wireless service by 2017.