Toronto will finally be getting cell phone service on the TTC subway

Apr 11 2023, 2:40 pm

TTC users got an unexpected surprise Monday evening, when telecom giant Rogers Communications announced a plan to bring full 5G connectivity and cell phone services to the entire subway network.

The TTC has long been equipped with the necessary infrastructure to support cell service; however, telecoms have resisted efforts by city politicians to flip the switch and bring Toronto’s subway system out of the stone age.

On Thursday, Rogers announced an agreement to acquire BAI Communications’ Canadian operations, which held the exclusive rights to the TTC’s wireless network since 2012.

Rogers claims the acquisition will allow the corporation to be “able to undertake the investments required to build a comprehensive and reliable 5G network to the entire TTC subway system.”

Though Rogers expects the full rollout of 5G service to take a couple of weeks, the first step toward full connectivity will come with Rogers opening up 911 service calls in subway stations and tunnels.

Currently, 911 calls can only be placed in areas where external cell service exists, like station platforms, concourses, and approximately 25% of subway tunnels.

Additional 5G service will be introduced only after the entire network is equipped for 911 calls, and Rogers expects everything to be online in approximately two years, citing limited overnight windows for construction without interrupting subway service.

A Rogers representative tells blogTO that “In the short term, Rogers will be able to address small gaps in this existing coverage area.”

“Over the next two years Rogers will expanded and upgraded network and will deliver seamless wireless coverage to customers with mobile voice and data services, and 911 access to all riders, in all 75 stations and 76.9 kilometres of Toronto’s subway system.”

“Once this network buildout is complete, all subway riders will be able to call 911 throughout the entire subway system, regardless of carrier.”

So if there is already cell infrastructure in place, why are we waiting two years? It turns out that the current infrastructure in place for years has been sitting unused for a bit too long, and is only capable of supporting 3G and 4G networks, below the current 5G standard.

A push at City Hall to force telecoms into providing cell service passed less than two weeks ago, and Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie hails the announcement as an important step in the right direction.

Rogers’ big announcement comes amid a particularly bad year of crime on the TTC, one that has riders on edge and is quickly evolving into a key issue in the upcoming mayoral by-election this summer.

“We know safety is top of mind for Torontonians. Residents and visitors expect wireless connectivity when they’re travelling on the TTC’s subway system,” said Ron McKenzie, Rogers’ chief technology and information officer.

“The agreement to acquire BAI Canada is a significant first step in modernizing and expanding the existing network to deliver enhanced 5G wireless service to millions of transit riders throughout the entire subway system in Canada’s largest city.”

Rogers is expected to close its acquisition of BAI Canada in the next two weeks, sealing the future of Toronto transit connectivity.

Jack LandauJack Landau

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