How the MTA Is Bringing Cell Phone Service to the Subway

July 1, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

As the MTA prepares to bring cell phone service to more and more subway stations, here’s a tour from Gizmodo on their latest efforts. An immense physical infrastructure is necessary in order to bring service to such a large distributed network of somewhat decrepit underground locations. Most of the work is taking place in a “mystery location” in Manhattan.

The building required a massive overhaul before it was fit to let the equipment it houses perform its job. A shaft down the center of the building had to be installed to house the fiber; huge air conditioning units needed to be in place; the whole structure had to be rewired in order to supply the juice needed to run these systems.


There are a lot of obstacles to bringing cell phone service underground that you’ve probably never thought of. Some are purely bureaucratic: Each major service provider had to sign on independently and provide their own equipment, creating a patched together hodgepodge not unlike the subway itself.

The generator needed to keep this operation running is enough to bring power to 700 homes. Another consieration — the fibers which run into the stations which provide service must be housed in weather-resistant coverings like those used outdoors, which if you’ve ever been in a subway while MTA employees wield their power washers actually makes a lot of sense.


By 2017, the MTA estimates it will have added cell service to 278 stations across the city, and even more will come after that. However, due to twisty tunnels, it’s unknown if they’ll ever be able to give us service when we’re actually on the train. (Photos: Gizmodo)