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Study: Cell Service On The New York Subway Still Sucks

The city's last great dead zone isn't going quietly. Updated with comment from MTA.

Posted on June 30, 2014, at 1:12 p.m. ET

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Of the major drawbacks to riding the New York City Subway — the body odor, the traces of human waste on the seats, the rodents — perhaps the least intractable is the awful cell service. When Transit Wireless announced that cell and Wi-Fi service would be available at all 277 stations by 2017, it was a sign that one of the last great dead zones was being brought to heel by the forces of convenience.

But not so fast! According to a new study by the Global Wireless Solutions, a mobile benchmarking firm, cell service on the subway is still basically terrible. Over three days in early May, GWS engineers ran mobile benchmarking tests on trains throughout the city, and found that only two stretches of track provided data network access with more than a 50% success rate: the 7 train between Grand Central and Times Square (74%) and the E train from 50th Street to Lexington Ave/53rd Street (52%). Here's the full breakdown:

1. 7 train (Times Square to Grand Central): 74% success rate

2. E train (50th Street to Lexington Ave/53rd Street): 52% success rate

3. 6 train (28th Street to Grand Central): 35% success rate

4. B, D trains (Columbus Circle to Grand Street): 23% success rates

5. 1 train (Columbus Circle to South Ferry): 20% success rate

6. A, C trains (Columbus Circle to Fulton Street): 16% success rates

7.L train (8th Avenue to 1st Avenue): 15% success rate

8. 2, 3 trains (Chambers Street to Wall Street): 14% success rates

9. J, Z trains (Delancey Street to Broad Street): 12% success rates

10. (Tied) E train (Canal Street to World Trade Center): 11% success rate; N, Q, R trains (Lexington Ave/59th St. to South Ferry): 11% success rates

11. F Train (Lafayette Street to East Broadway): 8% success rate

So, for those of you worrying that you might have to work on your commute, take heart. It will be years before you have to put down your John Green paperback and send an email. "Sorry, I was underground" will be a safe excuse for the foreseeable future.

Adam Lisberg, MTA's director of external communications, responded to the Global Wireless Solutions report:

"Here’s what’s wrong with this alleged survey by an out of state company. They tried to measure cell service in stations that don’t have it. This is like measuring the strength of sunscreen at midnight. Transit wireless has installed service at 47 stations so far, none of which are below 14th street, so when this company claims that cell service is lacking because they can’t get a signal below 14th street that tells you more about their incompetence than about how fantastic it is that we have service above 14th street.

In addition, they are measuring service between stations in the tunnels - we’ve never wired the tunnels. It’s enough of a challenge to wire stations.

For New Yorkers who ride the subway, unlike the people who put out this alleged study, they know how great it is to be able to make a call or check your email on the platform. Anyone who tries to knock how great that is clearly doesn’t come from New York."

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