$32.5 million deal brings 4G wireless to CTA subways by year's end

By the end of the year, it will be a lot easier when you’re in the CTA subway tunnels to tweet about the latest delay or upload that Instagram photo of the guy taking up two seats.

That’s when 4G wireless service will be available in the 22 miles of Red and Blue line subway tunnels under a $32.5 million deal with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. Those four carriers agreed to fund the entire upgrade related to the design and construction of a next-generation Distributed Antenna System (DAS) capable of supporting the latest 4G wireless networks and mobile devices, according to a news release.

Chicago Tribune photo by John J. Kim

Chicago Tribune photo by John J. Kim

The new service will be phased in station by station, with the work completed by the end of this year. The CTA will be the nation’s largest  transit system with 4G coverage in all subway stations and tunnels.

“Companies want people working while they are working, but also working while they get to work,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a Chicago Tribune report. Interesting that Rahm emphasized people working before they even get to work, because that’s certainly what’s expected by many employers.

The installation of 4G wireless service certainly makes that much more doable.


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  • "Working while they get to work." I suppose employers want people working while they're sleeping, too. I suppose a quantity of work might get done that way. But what about the quality?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    How is that the wireless carrier's or CTA's concern. Maybe you can program your unnconnected tablet to do your work without your intervention.

  • A key point not mentioned is that all wireless telephone service is moving to Voice-over-LTE (basically Voice over IP), eliminating the need for the 'ol circuit-switched voice network. The wireless companies want to get this up and running ASAP to free up the old spectrum, and eliminate the duplication of infrastructure.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The article about that yesterday was relevant only to landlines not on fiber optics. Cell phones have been all digital for about 8 years now.

  • In reply to jack:

    It has nothing to do with analog. LTE is currently used for data only. Voice uses old digital cellular technology that dates back decades. Voice over LTE allows them to ditch the old digital infrastructure, saving them money, and freeing up spectrum.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Voice does not rely on old cell technology. Any cell phone today can be used for voice or text, including a flip phone.

    If you have a source for what you are asserting, please post it.

  • In reply to jack:

    I guess it depends on what you mean by old. Current cellular voice does not use LTE (packet switched), but rather GSM/UMTS or CDMA (3G - circuit switched). LTE is incompatible with 3G technologies, so currently, wireless providers have to support both technologies. The plan is to migrate all voice off of 3G, and onto 4G.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Even if that's the case, how does it affect the users or the CTA infrastructure? I assume that the carriers can take care of their own problems. Are the carriers going to start reissuing their flip phones?

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm simply not following you, Jack. What point are you trying to make, if any?

    The carriers are paying to put the LTE antennas in the subway tunnels. It's not costing the CTA anything as far as I'm aware. With the new equipment, riders will be able to use LTE devices for mobile (4G) data. They've been able to make phone calls for years, using any 3G phone, including your favorite (digital) 3G-based flip phone.

    At some point in the near future, the carriers will turn off the old 3G equipment, rendering older 3G-based phone useless. Only newer phones with voice-over-LTE will be able to send/receive voice calls.

    Carriers are actively trying to get their customers over to the newer phones. One of my buddies was offered a significant discount on a new plan/phone in order to get him off his old phone. The sooner the carriers can get everyone on the newer equipment, the sooner they can retire the old 3G network.

    So, to answer your question. How does it affect riders? In the near term, they'll benefit from having 4G data in the tunnels at no cost to them. Longer term, if they have a very old phone, at some point they'll lose the ability to make phone calls unless they upgrade.

    I don't think this has much impact on the CTA, unless their personnel are using CTA-provided 3G phones, in which case they'll need to be upgrade.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    My point was the same as my point with respect to my reply to ccwriter, i.e. what does this have to do with CTA? At least you answered it didn't and explained what might happen. You started off with "a key point not mentioned," but finally answered that it certainly was not a key point as far as CTA is concerned, and probably only a far off eventuality as far as its passengers are concerned. I'm sure that if AT&T drops whatever prior digital method, Tracfone will have to give out new phones, just like it did when AT&T dropped analog cellular (most of the prepaid companies lease capacity from one of the big 4 carriers).

  • "my point with respect to my reply to ccwriter, i.e. what does this have to do with CTA? At least you answered it "

    So let me get this straight, Jack. I responded in my comment to a point Kevin made in his article. You declared the point off topic and now you complain that I didn't respond to your declaration

    Maybe you should start your own blog. Then you can put up complaints that I never visit..

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    "and now you complain that I didn't respond to your declaration "

    Did I ever type that here? Boers and Bernstein have "imaginary radio," and again we have an instance of "imaginary blog comment."

    You did get my first point which I made about your and Spiny's comments--that they were not of concern to CTA. So, basically, you have a .500 record in the immediately preceding post.

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