Possibility: London Underground To Finally Get Mobile Signal
Published 22 February 2011
I was reading earlier this week about the possibility of being able to get mobile phone signal on the London Underground soon. It all started when the Financial Times broke a story that Huawei was likely to be the technology partner to implementing mobile signal on the London Underground.
This was then followed up by scrutiny of the deal, and apparently, Huawei was the only bidder for the contract with London Underground. There was also an interesting twist to the story – not only was Huawei the only bidder, but also that it had pledged to donate £50m worth of free equipment to make it happen. Presumably that was half the £100m required investment, with the rest coming from the mobile networks as TfL had no budget for it.
Then there was scrutiny from the press and anti-foreign sentiment being expressed, with “fears” about Huawei hiding spying technology and such in the equipment it is donating, and conspiracy theories of the Chinese government behind it and wanting to listen to chavs on the Tube talk about Burberry’s latest season and their local kebab shop.
Interestingly, a poll was conducted by GoodMobilePhones, which found that 76% of Londoners didn’t want mobile signal underground – something I agree with. On the one hand, we’ll have annoying chatters with unlimited minutes yakking throughout the ride. On a crowded Tube train, and at rush hour, who would want that? On the other hand, the possibility of having internet access and text messaging when the tube train (inevitably) breaks down between two stations is quite attractive.
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has thrown his full weight and support behind the project, although he has come up short in the financial aspect. He had this to say about press paranoia about a Chinese company supplying the equipment: “The issue is not so much the Chinese company that is offering to help or security issues. The issue is the technology given we have got very old and narrow tunnels.”
If the Chinese really wanted to spy on us, there are far easier (and less public) ways to do so. A short while back I was on a visit to the HM Treasury headquarters in Westminster. There, pretty much most of the desktop computers, iPhones, Blackberries, and printers were made in China. If I was the Chinese intelligence service, wouldn’t it be so easy to get one of the many subcontractors of HP desktops to implement spy chips, which will inevitably find its way inside government departments?