Link light rail train exiting tunnel
A Link light rail train exits a tunnel, entering the Capitol Hill Station (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Tired of los­ing cel­lu­lar ser­vice when you descend into an under­ground Link light rail sta­tion? Then rejoice, for Sound Tran­sit has announced that cus­tomers on all four of Amer­i­ca’s major wire­less providers (Ver­i­zon, AT&T, Sprint, and T‑Mobile) will soon be able to get a sig­nal in its under­ground facil­i­ties, which include the Down­town Seat­tle Tran­sit Tun­nel, Bea­con Hill tun­nel, and Uni­ver­si­ty Link tunnels.

Said the agency in a news release:

Sound Tran­sit has part­nered with wire­less infra­struc­ture provider Mobil­i­tie to design and install a Dis­trib­uted Anten­na Sys­tem (DAS) net­work that will allow tran­sit rid­ers to use their cell phones while trav­el­ing under­ground. The DAS net­work, which has been under con­struc­tion since ear­li­er this year, is begin­ning a phased roll­out this week. By late Sep­tem­ber, the Mobil­i­tie net­work will pro­vide wire­less cell­phone cov­er­age to the tun­nel between Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and West­lake in Down­town Seat­tle, fol­lowed lat­er this fall to the tun­nels in Down­town Seat­tle and to Bea­con Hill in 2017.

T‑Mobile cus­tomers will be the first to get ser­vice in the U‑Link tun­nels (start­ing this week), fol­lowed by cus­tomers of Ver­i­zon and AT&T in Sep­tem­ber. Sprint will fol­low along some­time after that, Sound Tran­sit says.

Because the DAS net­work installed by Mobiltie is so new, con­nec­tiv­i­ty ought to be decent, though it remains to be seen how the net­work holds up when there’s a lot of demand. The com­pa­ny’s “high-den­si­ty wire­less infra­struc­ture is designed to enable rich, inter­ac­tive mobile expe­ri­ences, includ­ing real-time video stream­ing, 5G, and oth­er mobile appli­ca­tions,” Sound Tran­sit says.

That sug­gests that rid­ers who want to watch YouTube, Net­flix, Hulu, HBO Go, or oth­er video sites on their smart­phone, tablet, or note­book will be able to do so.

Pub­lic Wi-Fi is cur­rent­ly avail­able at the DST­T’s four sta­tions (Inter­na­tion­al Dis­trict, Pio­neer Square, Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict, West­lake) but cel­lu­lar ser­vice is spot­ty or nonex­is­tent in the tran­sit tun­nels, ham­per­ing rid­ers’ abil­i­ty to make plans with friends and fam­i­ly, or sim­ply get some work done.

That’s all about to change now.

The avail­abil­i­ty of cel­lu­lar ser­vice in the tun­nels will also mean that phone con­ver­sa­tions can be held under­ground. Hope­ful­ly, Sound Tran­sit will dou­ble down on post­ing rid­ing eti­quette reminders to encour­age rid­ers to refrain from hav­ing loud phone con­ver­sa­tions on trains, bus­es, and sta­tion platforms.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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