/ Technology, Travel & Leisure

Should mobiles be allowed on the Underground?

London Underground map

Why can’t we go for five minutes without checking our mobile phones these days? The Tube is one of the few mobile-free places left in London, but this could all be set to change.

It’s been reported that the London Mayor Boris Johnson is pushing for mobile coverage on the Tube to be set up in time for the 2012 Olympics. It’s an idea that’s been bandied about for years but hasn’t got off the ground until now.

Discussions are currently going on with the major mobile networks – Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and 3 – about who would share the rumoured £100m cost of the project. At least this should mean it will be funded by businesses rather than the taxpayer.

So what are the benefits of not losing signal on an underground journey across London? Some sources are saying it will boost the capital’s economy. But I don’t buy that. Would it really be used for that important business call, or would carriages suddenly be filled with couples checking who’s buying what for dinner on the way home?

I can guess what’s more likely. Don’t panic though – for those who think this could just be one more giant annoyance to add to the daily commute, it’s said there will almost certainly be some quiet carriages where mobiles would be banned.

Ok, mobile network coverage is important to consumers, but is this one step too far? Or is our underground system way out of date for not offering this already?


Mobile coverage isn’t just for voice calls, you know! I’d love to be able to check and reply to emails, read the news, and plan my calendar for the day. This is all done with cloud apps now, so the ‘old’ paradigm of syncing and doing it offline doesn’t cut it any more.

Roll on internet in the underground!

Kris Lipscombe says:
22 September 2010

Absolutely want it, I hate dropping offline when I get on the tube, particularly on longish distances. It’s a productivity boost, and tubes aren’t exactly the most quiet of environments already so I can’t see it making much difference to the noise level. In fact I doubt people would make voice calls, you’d barely be able to hear each other.

Plus the apps that could be built to use data whilst on the underground would be interesting.

What about those times when you’re stuck in a tunnel, the driver tells you that you’re going to be held there for a while which means you’re going to be late for work. Being able to text or call your boss to let them know would be a real help. Not to mention if tube delays mean you’re going to be late for a meeting – it could at least put your mind at rest by allowing you to tell people in advance. And, checking emails and the internet underground would also be a bonus.

Sophie Gilbert says:
23 September 2010

No, really, you can do without you mobile phone.

My mobile is for my sons school to keep in contact with me at all times as he his statemented which is why i’m supposed to be on 24 hr contact. Some people may need it for emergency contact, also what if there was ever another scare by suicide bombers and the like not that im wishing it, i HOPE not but we have to admit a mobile phone is an advantage to let our loved ones know in the event of another terrorist alert if we were involved in anyway.

Listening to some show off on a train can spoil the journey – so thank heavens for ‘quiet’ carriages.

In Japan there is a unwritten rule that you dont use your mobile – if you can reach it that is – to talk to someone on the underground and on that basis text/internet is fine providing youre using headphones

Personally though I think alot of people appreciate the opportunity for a bit of peace and quiet and to be able to ‘switch off’ as modern communciations can be instrusive.

I do think that productivity in the city could be increased if there was mobile coverage on the Tube – accessing the internet would be a good idea. However, we might not get much done with all the presume one-way conversations going on.

However, I travel on the DLR (overground) and there aren’t that many mobile convos going on. Plus, it’s useful to let people know how far away I am if I’m going to meet them. Bring it on I say!

Sophie Gilbert says:
25 September 2010

Activity may be boosted, but I would doubt very much that the quality of work produced in such an environment was going to be high. Don’t mistake activity for productivity.

I would bear in mind what these two people have to say:

Professor Cary Cooper, a stress expert at Lancaster University Management School: “If you work consistently long hours, over 45 a week every week, it will damage your health, physically and psychologically.”

Derek Simpson, the general secretary of Amicus, the manufacturing, technical and skilled persons’ union: “As well as being bad for individuals, our long-hours culture is also bad for business because lower working hours relate directly to higher productivity. It is no coincidence that the UK has the least-regulated economy in Europe and is the least productive in the industrialised world.”

In other words, “work smarter”, not longer. Switch on your mobile only if you must (phone mum/the office), or at worst to entertain yourself to pass the time. Arrive at work not having already managed to cram a few emails in. Don’t arrive at home still in work mode because instead of having left work far behind you’ve brought it home with you in your mobile.

Wi-fi access is coming to the London Underground next week, but only at Charing Cross for a trial. So you’ll have to stick around on the platform if you want to use it. More on the Which? Mobile Blog