Phone service finally penetrates New York Subway

Sep 27, 2011 by Sebastian Smith
A man speaks on his mobile phone in May 2011 in New York City. New York's antiquated subway system finally entered the cell phone age Tuesday, but the surprise sight of signal bars popping up on screens didn't please all the Big Apple's harried commuters.

New York's antiquated subway system finally entered the cell phone age Tuesday, but the surprise sight of signal bars popping up on screens didn't please all the Big Apple's harried commuters.

Years after other major world cities and even US rivals like Boston or San Francisco began enabling phone use underground, New York's estimated 4.3 million daily straphangers can now make calls. Or at least a few can.

Just six stations in the west side of Manhattan have been given coverage, with the rest of the system, first built a century ago, due to take at least until 2016 to wire up.

Still, for New Yorkers used to seeing their beloved die as soon as they pass through the turnstiles from the street, the change is hot news.

"It's a good thing, of course. We need this," said construction worker Victor Simoni, as he headed on the L line to a job in Manhattan.

"We come all the way from the Bronx so to get there it's about an hour," his colleague Benny Djoni said. "We need it for arranging our work. It's a busy life."

Some well traveled New Yorkers expressed amazement that the city was only now taking first steps toward spreading high-tech communications below street level.

"I come from Germany and there it's very advanced. I'm not surprised, because the United States is very far from being an innovator anymore. That was last century," architect Thomas Winter, 47, said.

"Just look at the ," he added, gesturing at the dank, dirty tunnel on the L line. "When it rains, it drips through the ceiling."

Not all New Yorkers were phoning home to spread the good news about the arrival of in a few of the 277 underground stations, however.

People ride the New York City subway into Manhattan during the morning commute on September 9, in New York City. New York's antiquated subway system finally entered the cell phone age Tuesday, but the surprise sight of signal bars popping up on screens didn't please all the Big Apple's harried commuters.

Already some subway riders are feeling angst about the prospect of being in close proximity to annoying ring tones and lengthy conversations about the weather between people and their mothers.

Gawker.com published a helpful etiquette guide, starting with: "No talking. We do not want to hear your phone conversations.... Shut up!"

Another pointer: "Get out of the way. If you have to talk on the phone, do it somewhere people aren't going to bump into you." And: "Screaming does not improve reception."

Others point out that the subway will no longer be that rare haven from your boss.

Ruben Collado, a 32-year-old film maker using his phone on the L line, said his native city of Barcelona in Spain introduced phone service a decade ago and the boss issue came up there too.

"Everyone was complaining in Spain. It was the first thing they said," Collado said. "But you just keep coming up with a different story."

For Monica Santana, an actress, the end of the no-phone zone poses the almost existential threat of technology taking over life.

"I make a conscious effort not to check my too much, because you become a slave," she said.

New York's underground system has a way to go before becoming a full-on chat zone, but nostalgia is already creeping in.

"It was great knowing you could just walk into the subway and you were cut off," Collado said.

Explore further: Scientists twist radio beams to send data: Transmissions reach speeds of 32 gigabits per second

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cellphone service coming to 6 NYC subway stations

Sep 23, 2011

(AP) -- The long-delayed project to wire New York City subway stations for cellphone service is finally bearing fruit. A person close to the matter says six stations will go live with the service on Tuesday.

Subway dust may trigger lung damage

Oct 01, 2007

Subway trains produce airborne dust particles that could damage the lungs of commuters, scientists in France are reporting in a study of the Paris subway system scheduled for the October issue of ACS’ Chemical Re ...

Cellular annoyance

Jun 24, 2008

Annoying mobile communications abroad The results of a multi-national survey to be published in the International Journal of Mobile Communications reveals some surprises about cell phone use that have imp ...

Recommended for you

Team improves solar-cell efficiency

5 hours ago

New light has been shed on solar power generation using devices made with polymers, thanks to a collaboration between scientists in the University of Chicago's chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular ...

Calif. teachers fund to boost clean energy bets

5 hours ago

The California State Teachers' Retirement System says it plans to increase its investments in clean energy and technology to $3.7 billion, from $1.4 billion, over the next five years.

Alibaba surges in Wall Street debut

5 hours ago

A buying frenzy sent Alibaba shares sharply higher Friday as the Chinese online giant made its historic Wall Street trading debut.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

that_guy
1 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2011
I'm sorry, I'm not into phone penetration.
Royale
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2011
I'm sorry, I think this whole point is ridiculous.
A) The German guy saying we don't innovate anymore because we're behind on NYC subway cell phones? How does everyone think Germany would be doing with their cell services if their country was anywhere near the size of the US?
B) You got Collado saying "It was great knowing you could just walk into the subway and you were cut off." Really Collado? All you have to do in hit that on/off button and you're cut off, in EXACTLY the same way. Voice mail still works, but nothing else does.
Are people slow, or do they just not think before they speak?
yosifcuervo
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
C) Going into no-service zones just mercilessly drains your battery - if I was in that position I would find myself shutting it off on my way in anyway, if I was truly in for a 1-hour commute.
Skultch
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2011
A) The German guy saying we don't innovate anymore because we're behind on NYC subway cell phones? How does everyone think Germany would be doing with their cell services if their country was anywhere near the size of the US?


Clearly much worse. They did go digital from the get go, which was a good idea, but you can't give them too much credit, since they learned from our analog example. One thing I will give them is (was?) pricing. When I lived there in 2002-2004, all incoming texts and calls were free, AND you could still buy prepaid phones. If you wanted to be "that guy" you could have emergency service and people could contact you, pretty much for free. It just doesn't sit well with me that the US companies are effectively charging double for every call/text. I'm not sure if that's the case anymore, but I'd like to see the US companies adopt it. I would imagine that the first company to go for it will force the others to do the same.