Friday, January 13, 2006

Cell Phones in New York Subways?

Today's New York Times reports that the MTA is considering a plan that would put cell phone coverage in all 277 New York subway stations. The operators complain that, since most users have so many minutes, the operators' revenue won't increase, so they can't afford to put in the coverage. They are proposing some sort of joint effort to do it.

Man, to a Tokyoite, that's just bizarre.

By the same logic, a cellular operator who starts with one cell tower can never justify putting in the second. The second one doesn't increase the amount of money the users will spend, so why build it?

In Japan, where people (including me) spend hours a day on the subway, you can't live without coverage in the stations, many of which are far underground. A carrier without coverage there would be rightly thrashed in the media for poor coverage. It's assumed. Coverage means everywhere, not just where it's convenient for the operator. Coverage in the subway tunnels themselves is still poor, though a lot of signal bleeds into the tunnel when the stations are only a few hundred meters apart.

People complaining that it means putting up with loudmouths on the train (or airplane, where coverage is also being experimented with) just don't get it. In Japan, it's very rude to talk on your phone while on the train (though okay on the platform). But people do email and short messages constantly. It's not uncommon for half the people in sight to be tapping away on their phones (I've seen people doing it while driving a car or riding a bike, but that's another story).

The U.S. carriers should be embarrassed that their phones don't work in the stations. They should be competing to make their networks work better than their competitors'. What happened to "Can you hear me now?"


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