Many more users can now get 4G and 5G on the London Underground

(Image credit: Transport for London)

Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone have agreed a deal to provide their customers with 4G and 5G connectivity across the entirety of the London Underground.

The two operators have struck a deal with BAI Communications, which is building a neutral host network across the capital’s subterranean network that can be used by any provider.

BAI had already reached agreements with EE and Three, meaning it now has the support of all four major mobile operators in the UK. By 2024, it plans to provide connect every single underground station on the network, with coverage extending into ticket halls, platforms, and tunnels.

Tube mobile coverage

Work has already started at some of the busiest stations, with Bank, Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Euston, and Camden Town set to go live within the next six months. Some sections of the tube will go online by next summer, with the eastern section of the Jubilee Line already connected thanks to an initial pilot scheme.

Although the network will be 4G-only to begin with, BAI says the network is ‘5G ready’ and will also support the planned LTE-capable Emergency Services Network (ESN).

BAI will also assume control of the tube Wi-Fi network, currently operated by Virgin Media O2, from April 2023.  

“The UK needs world class digital infrastructure, and bringing 4G and 5G to the London Underground is a big part of that,” said Vodafone UK CEO Ahmed Essam. “4G on the eastern stretch of the Jubilee line is already making a huge difference to our customers, and we’re proud to continue our investment in keeping consumers and businesses connected across more parts of London.”

“With our 5G network already reaching two-thirds of Londoners, this investment will bring next-generation mobile connectivity deep underground for the first time ever, giving our customers a seamless service while on the move,” added Lutz Schüler, Virgin Media O2 CEO. 

“We’ve already invested hundreds of millions of pounds in the capital to expand and upgrade our fixed and mobile networks which has accelerated London’s transformation into a cutting-edge digital hub, fuelling growth and connecting communities to gigabit services.”

BAI’s 20-year deal with Transport for London (TfL) will end the tube’s status as the UK’s most high profile mobile ‘not spot’ after previous attempts to bring coverage to the London Underground all ending in failure.

Former Mayor Boris Johnson once declared that mobile coverage would arrive by 2012 and his predecessor Ken Livingstone asked the industry for pitches back in 2005. A more recent target by TfL was to have full coverage by 2019.

Under the terms of its 20-year concession, BAI has joined as a long-term investor, and there are no upfront costs for TfL. All revenues generated by the authority reinvested back into London’s transport system.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.