CTA 4G project on track for 2015 completion


Lou Foglia/Chronicle

The CTA plans to bring 4G coverage to all stations and tunnels by the end of the year. The $32.5 million project was funded entirely by wireless companies.

By Jordan Watkins

Expanded wireless coverage means Chicago Transit Authority riders will no longer have to worry about wrapping up phone calls and quickly finishing text messages before entering the subway. 

The CTA announced Oct. 15 it has completed the first phase of a project aiming to bring 4G wireless coverage to CTA subways—a project initially reported Feb. 9 by The Chronicle. 

Contractors working for the CTA completed the first phase of the project—activating 4G service along a 1.2-mile stretch of the Blue Line between the Logan Square and Belmont stops—earlier this month. CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman said he expects the project to be completed by the end of 2015. 

“It will be done in phases,” Tolman said. “All 22 miles of CTA subway will have 4G wireless capability.”

The CTA could not provide specific details regarding which phases it will complete next or when the rest of the project will be done, but Tolman said the CTA is confident customers will have 4G signal throughout the system by the end of the year.

Tolman said the project covers all tunnels, mezzanines and platforms CTA riders and personnel utilize.

“It’s definitely a customer convenience,” Tolman said. “It improves the customer experience.”

The CTA also expects the project to improve safety on trains and stations by improving communications between customers and personnel with emergency responders.

The $32.5 million project is funded entirely by the four major wireless carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. The deal was brokered by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel created in 2012 to help provide alternative funding for major projects, Emanuel said in a Jan. 30 press release. 

When the project is fully implemented, Chicago will be the largest city in North America with full 4G coverage throughout its subway system, the release stated.

“The addition of 4G coverage will ensure that CTA passengers benefit from dependable data service while riding the subway,” Emanuel said in the release. “This is part of the city’s ongoing efforts to invest in 21st-century technology for Chicago’s world-class transit system and expand economic opportunity for more Chicagoans throughout the city.”

Cellular service reaches devices in the subway through a distributed antenna system, said AT&T spokesman Phil Hayes in an email.

“The old [antenna] system was 3G technology [and] was congested many hours of the day,” Hayes said. “The New DAS system supports all the technologies AT&T offers. Every AT&T customer that rides the CTA train system will recognize the improvement once the network is completely upgraded.”

Ola Broysiewicz, a student at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, said she is looking forward to the project’s completion and being able to use her phone in the subway at any given time.

“It’s really annoying because I would always try to text,” she said. “But now I’ll be able to.”

Megan Perrero, a freshman journalism major at Columbia, said she will appreciate having Internet access in stations.

“I think having Google Maps tell you where you want to go and still have the directions will be really cool,” Perrero said. “It’s [also] nice to be able to call someone or be on your phone so people don’t come up and talk to you.”