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Berlin: BVG to Speed Up Internet Connections in U-Bahn Tunnels

About a quarter century after the beginning of the information age, Berlin’s main public transport provider BVG has developed the idea of bringing information, meaning Internet connections, to all of its U-Bahn train passengers. For that purpose, the state-owned company teamed up with Telefónica Deutschland, a communications giant.

There is nothing better than entering the U-Bahn, which is Berlin’s subway or underground, and not being able to continue communicating or downloading the latest useless Powerpoint presentations, because there is no connection in those endless tunnels.

On many stretches, such as the one between Hermannplatz and Alexanderplatz on the U7, T-Mobile customers and subscribers of other telecommunication firms run into trouble. Important online conversations are suddenly being cut off. Surfing the Internet, a very popular activity in the ongoing information age, will not work either.

Lucky Berliners are Already Connected

Some lucky Berliners, namely O2 subscribers, have had far better connections in U-Bahn trains for three years now. Since 2016, they have been able to use the so-called LTE standard in the U-Bahn tunnels throughout Berlin. But T-Mobile and Vodafone customers have not.

The contract the BVG just signed with Telefónica will supposedly change that. A “modern mobile communications technology” would make sure T-Mobile and Vodafone subscribers would “get access to LTE in underground tunnels and on platforms in stations”, the BVG announced in a press release.

“Our signature under the contract takes us a big step closer to our goal of offering an area-covering access to fast Internet”, Berlin’s Economy Senator Ramona Pop, who is also chairlady of the of the BVG Supervisory Board, said. “This is good news for all Berliners who want to spend their travel time with information and entertainment”, Pop accurately stated.

Installation to Take Time

There is also bad news: The expansion of the LTE standard will take time, meaning many Berliners will have to wait even longer for the information age to hit the U-Bahn. According to the BVG, the installation will take two years. And the negotiations already lasted for ages.

Telefónica is a competitor of T-Mobile and Vodafone. This aspect was a problem from the start. It prolonged the negotiations substantially.

Technically, the extension of the Internet service for all will be made possible with the installation of so-called ‘BTS Hotels’ in service rooms along the U-Bahn tunnels. All telecommunications servers and other devices will be operated there. From those rooms, the signals are being transmitted to the U-Bahn trains and stations. First, the lines U2, U5 and U8 will receive Internet connections for T-Mobile and Vodafone users.

“A fast internet access is an important feature of comfort to our passengers”, the BVG’s chairlady Sigrid Nikutta said. She mentioned the free WiFi connections the BVG already offers in train stations. Since 1995, ten years after the cell phone spread all over the globe, mobile telephony has been available in the BVG’s tunnel systems.