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New York's Cellular in Transit

New York City has put out a call to telecommunications companies, asking for bids on a plan to install cell phone infrastructure in its transit system -- for free.

Earlier this week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that building a wireless voice and data network at station platforms would be a key part of its new security plan. The communications system could improve the speed at which the city could respond to a terrorist attack.

The MTA, which oversees the New York City Transit system, Long Island Railroad, Metro North Railroad and MTA bridges and tunnels, this week awarded a $212 million contract to defense firm Lockheed Martin. Over three years, Lockheed will develop a high-tech security strategy, installing more than 1,000 cameras and 3,000 sensors at platforms, on bridges, and in tunnels, stations and terminals throughout the city.

The latest telecommunications project is expected to be an extension of that strategy. However, in this deal, the MTA does not intend to pay the winning telecom. Instead, the winning bidder would gain exclusive rights to sell access to the network to other service providers. That type of contract is standard for infrastructure deals in wireless business.

Under the proposed network, riders would be able to make phone calls and send other wireless messages from 277 of the city's 468 stations. The network would encompass station platforms, walkways between platforms, stairs, escalators and elevators. There is no plan for service in subway tunnels.

Although the winning bidder does not receive a fee to set up the infrastructure, it would gain significant leverage over other wireless companies that would have pay for calls customers make outside their networks. Because of that, the 10-year contract could be worth between $50 and $100 million.

All three of the top wireless providers told internetnews.com they were interested in going after the job.

"We just received a copy of the RFP on Wednesday, but haven't had chance to review it," said Lisa Malloy, a spokeswoman for Sprint Nextel. "But we would look forward to working with the MTA."

Malloy added Sprint Nextel already provides wireless infrastructure services for the Washington D.C. subway system, as well as for several tunnels in New York City.

David Samberg, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, said the New York-based telecommunications firm was very interested in the project. He said Verizon has the longest history of doing underground work in the city, with wireless networks set up in many tunnels, as well as in Penn Station.

He said the city's proposal to include only platforms, walkways and stairwells is a logical one.

"Put in perspective, it took us 14 months to do 15.5 miles of tunnel for Amtrak," he said, noting that the New York City subway system has over 700 miles of tunnels.

"This will be very beneficial for millions of new Yorkers," Ellen Webner, Cingular wireless spokeswoman said. "And that interests us very much."

Cingular also has provided special cellular coverage for buildings and railway train stations, providing exclusive coverage at Grand Central Station and the 33rd Street P.A.T.H. station. Webner said the company will invest $500 million on network improvements this year, including 275 new cell sites in the metro New York area.



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