If the finer points surrounding contractual negotiations can be resolved, passengers on London's underground Tube network should be able to access 2G and 3G services next year.
The deal, said to be valued at £150 million, will see the Mayor of London bringing together Transport for London (TfL) and the big four UK operators to enable coverage across the entire Tube network.
An insider said: "We are very close to signing a deal to put mobile on the underground. The Mayor of London is keen for it [the network] to happen before the Olympics."
The technical issues of providing coverage will see Huawei-supplied signal repeaters installed in each Tube station, with in-tunnel coverage provided using ‘leaky cable' techniques. However, the narrow width of the tunnels - which don't have a walkway alongside the track, will make the installation and maintenance of these cables expensive.
The deal is currently said to be delayed due to a stand off between the operators and Thales - the company TfL favours to manage the equipment as part of a services contract. The point of disagreement is thought (unsurprisingly) to centre on who will pay and how much they will pay.
The high-profile Mayor, Boris Johnson, is so keen to see the project go ahead in time for the UK Olympics that he has committed to finance the annual management fee. However, this might raise protests from Londoners not wishing to pay higher Tube fares or taxes to finance this additional fee.
The operators are thought to be holding back on agreeing the deal until the financial details are well understood.
Past discussions to enable Tube coverage were focused on TfL becoming an MVNO with the operators than paying for access. Naturally, the operators quickly vetoed this idea when they became further involved arguing that any service had to be provided using their own networks.
- see this Mobile Today article