Toronto subway to be wired for cellular

Toronto’s subway riders are closer to getting to use their cellular-connected devices in underground tunnels now that the municipal transit authority has approved a deal with a service provider.

However, there’s no date on when service will be available.

On Wednesday the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) agreed to award a contract worth $25 million over 20 years to Broadcast Australia Pty to build an open wireless network throughout the city’s 61-station subway system.

The city specified that all cellular carriers in the city have the ability to buy access on the network.

But what the terms will be and whether carriers will want to pay that amount isn’t known yet.
Before going completely live Broadcast Australia has to first wire at least two subway stations to test possible interference with the TTC`s internal wireless operations system. If that test fails the agency can cancel the contract.
(ITWC photo)

Broadcast Australia, which has experience in building public mobile networks including New York City’s subway system, issued a news release saying it will stay silent on its Toronto plans until a contract has been signed with the city.

It isn’t clear if devices will connect directly with cellular carriers underground, or through Wi-Fi and then to carriers. If the latter, then only Wi-Fi enabled devices will work.

Under the terms of the Toronto deal, Broadcast Australia has 12 months from the signing of an agreement to get contracts with carriers that total 60 per cent of the wireless subscribers in the city or risk losing the deal.

If it can’t hit that target, Broadcast Australia will have another 12 months to find another provider to take over the network.

Winning the city contract was relatively easy: Broadcast Australia had no competitors. BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility and Extranet Systems of Chicago had pre-qualified to bid on the deal. However, Extranet withdrew in June and Bell, which bid $5.48 million, asked for certain exceptions in the terms to the point where its offer was considered non-compliant.

The TTC has wanted to bring cellular access to the subway since 2009, when it issued a call for companies to pre-qualify for bidding. After Bell, Broadcast Australia and Extranet were chosen, the city met with them between October, 2010 and March 2011 to establish technical terms and conditions for the project.
The terms included setting 20-year term for the winning bidder and a minimum annual fee paid to the commission of $250,000 a year. A design review fee of $8,000 per subway station will also be charged to cover TTC costs of reviewing the plans.
The telecommunications network agreement itself was drafted by law firm, while a consulting firm was hired to ensure the process for the request for proposals would be fair and transparent.
One final condition was added in December 2011: The agreement had to contain a non-discrimination provision requiring every wireless carrier be given equal access to the network.
The request for proposals was sent to the three companies in May of this year, with bids closed in September.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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