IT WILL BE HELL or heaven depending upon your view of mobiles on the London Underground and you'll either thank or curse Mayor Boris Johnson for it come June 2012.
The underground's management company, Transport for London (TFL), has decided its trial of WiFi at the Charing Cross Station was a success. With Johnson's backing and London taxpayers dosh the wireless technology will be rolled out across 120 of London's stations by June 2012.
The Charing Cross trial, which started in November last year, involved BT Openzone. It found that over half of the passengers surveyed thought WiFi access would "make their experience of using the Tube better".
Considering the huge number of tourists that are in London at any one time, The INQUIRER can only assume that many of these people surveyed do not actually live in London. And so they won't have to pay for it because it is going to be paid for out of local taxes.
For those who welcome access to the Internet and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony while standing on the platform, TFL explains that, "A contract will be awarded to the chosen bidder by the end of 2011... passengers will be able to log on to the internet from their laptops or mobile devices at stations before the 2012 Olympic [games]."
What sort of data rate users can expect to get when the trains are halted to "regulate the service" is anyone's guess as everyone tries to text or call the people they are going to be late meeting.
With the Underground as punctual as it is, access to websites to read something when you have finished the Evening Standard newspaper while waiting for a tube train will probably be welcome, but The INQUIRER wonders how much joy that VoIP will bring?
VoIP access on the Tube platforms could condemn London's commuters to a constant barrage of inane, shouted comments such as, "I'M ON THE TUBE" or "I'M STUCK AT THE PLATFORM, YES, SIGNALLING PROBLEM, NO NOT PASSENGER ACTION."
Under Johnson's plan 16 stations will get the service in the first phase. This will no doubt bring to the fore a range of technical challenges from not enough bandwidth to possible unforeseen interference.
Perhaps when the reality of WiFi and VoIP calling on the London underground comes home to roost there will be a sharp public backlash that stops it in its tracks, pun intended.
Of course the TFL statement gives the real reason for this WiFi network, as it burbles, "WiFi services are a potential future revenue source."
But instead of simply stating the truth, Johnson continues to show how divorced he is from reality and says, "[During the Olympics] even Londoners going underground will be able to keep up to date with the British medal tally at the 2012 Games." µ