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Cell phone service to extend to Blue, Green Lines this month

Published: Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 02:12

Cell Phone in T

Gabriela Ros / Tufts Daily

Cell phone service will be extended to the Blue and Green Lines of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority by the end of the month and to the entire Red Line next year.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), working with the wireless infrastructure company InSite Wireless Group, will finish extending cell phone service along the Blue and Green Lines of the T by the end of this month.

The Red Line, which already has working cell phone coverage in the downtown area between the Kendall and Andrew stations, will get complete cell phone service sometime in 2012, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Mobile carriers T−Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Wireless currently have contracts with InSite to provide cell phone service in the T in the downtown Boston area and along the Orange Line, according to InSite Vice President of Engineering and Operations Joe Mullin. AT&T and T−Mobile are slated to provide cell phone service in the Blue and Green Line extensions, with Verizon to follow, he added.

"We're in negotiations with [Verizon]," Mullin told the Daily. "They've said they're certainly coming, but it's just a matter of when."

MBTA officials began pursuit of the project in response to frequent customer requests for cell phone access in the subway, according to Pesaturo.

"It was a common request that we received from many customers who expressed an interest in having cell phone availability while they were underground," he said. "Over the years, we've also heard from some customers who feel more comfortable traveling at night if they can use their phones when they're traveling in the subway."

The MBTA submitted two requests for infrastructure proposals in the early 2000s, eventually settling on InSite's plan in May 2005, according to Mullin.

InSite's plan capitalizes on the existing fiber optic work in the T system, he said. It creates cell phone reception by running fiber optic cables through the subway tunnels and stations in order to convert radio waves, provided by cell phone carriers, into signals that travel along the cables. The signals travel through the tunnels and then convert back into radio waves to create reception for cell phones, according to Mullin.

Though the project has been in the works for over six years, InSite has found it difficult to do construction given the T's operating schedule.

"One of the biggest challenges is that the trains are running all the time except for overnight, and by the time everything gets done and they shut off power to the lines so we can work on it, we only get two to two−and−a−half hours a night to work," Mullin said.

Pesaturo has been able to observe the success of bringing cell phone service to the subway from its heavy use in existing reception areas in the downtown area.

"I use the Green Line every day, so when I board at Park Street, where it's been cell phone ready for a few years now, I look around and I see everyone either talking on their cell phone or looking at their cell phone," he said.

The eventual extension of cell phone coverage north of the Kendall Square station should come as a welcome change for Tufts students who take the T to and from the Davis Square T station, which doesn't currently have reception. Senior Juliana Woodley, who commutes to an internship in Roxbury twice a week, finds it frustrating to hop on the T and not have coverage until she gets downtown.

"I'm usually late for things, and having to wait until I get to Charles MGH to call is a huge pain," Woodley said. "Some lines are half−above ground anyway though, so there's some service there."

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