Mobile operators are battling it out to win a multimillion-pound contract to install a Wi-Fi network across 120 Tube stations.
Sources say that Everything Everywhere, O2, Three and Vodafone are in the running, along with BT and Virgin Media on the fixed-line side.
The news comes as Transport for London (TfL) confirmed this week that plans for mobile phone access on the London Underground have been ditched. The project hit problems earlier this year, with Mobile revealing that signalling contractor Thales and the mobile networks could not agree terms.
But a TfL spokesperson confirmed the Wi-Fi project has received the green light.
A tender has been issued, bidders have submitted their replies and it will be awarded by the end of 2011, according to TfL, which declined to provide further details.
A search of the OJEU, the European Commission’s list of tenders, and TfL’s own tender list did not produce any details either.
A TfL press statement in March this year said up to 120 Tube stations could have Wi-Fi by June 2012, in time for the London Olympics.
However, observers say that with the contract being awarded so late, the winning bidder could face problems delivering the contract before the Olympic Games.
The system’s usefulness has also been questioned. Commuters would be able to access their emails and surf the net while waiting for trains, but most would be unable to make phone calls unless they used VoIP. All the networks bar Three have banned Skype on their air networks.
Nonetheless, the London Underground Wi-Fi contract offers fewer challenges to bidders than the now defunct mobile phone access scheme, which was beset with a host of problems.
Before it was ditched, London Mayor Boris Johnson insisted that the capital’s commuters should not have to pay the bill. It also faced engineering constraints, with the system requiring repeaters every 100 metres or so, and limited tunnel access time.
This gave rise to doubts that the project could be completed in time for the 2012 Olympics.
‘There were also questions over the viability of the technology,’ said a source familiar with the project.