"We have significant traffic going through these tunnels, a half-million commuters every week,'' said Brian Jacks, executive network director overseeing metro New York business for Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, which earned $2.5 billion in revenue last year and has 4.6 million customers. "So, there's obviously a need for commuters to communicate in there.''
Nationwide, Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile has communications set up for 10 tunnels in such cities as Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington and Baltimore. Its wireless service is also available in the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in New York City.
New York officials wanted the added communications capability to ensure prompt responses to emergencies. Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile is providing radio service to New York police, fire and ambulance crews that permits them to communicate in the tunnels for the first time. It will also provide uninterrupted AM and FM radio service, full video surveillance of the tunnels and a public broadcasting capability.
For the company, the return is in the public relations and marketing: It gives the company another in a line of added access points that will hopefully bring in numerous customers, officials say. With competition fierce, wireless companies are scrambling to open areas to their services that previously were strictly off limits.
Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, for example, has arranged to establish communications links for consumers at the Philadelphia Convention Center and throughout Washington's Metropolitan Area Transit Authority system.
"The overall objective is to provide cellular service wherever customers can use it,'' said Maggie Oloia Rohr, a company spokeswoman. "That strategy entails getting it in tunnels and getting it in buildings. ... Our goal is to find out where our customers are traveling and how do we get our service there. And then we get it there.''
Company officials declined to project future revenues from the agreement with New York City officials, citing competitive reasons.
Providing Sprint Spectrum digital wireless service, Bethesda, Md.-based American Personal Communications has also explored prospects of broadening technology accessibility. It has run cable through six tunnels in Baltimore to provide wireless access to customers. It has also improved access by establishing antenna stations at two greater Washington arenas where reception was lacking: the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge, Va., and USAir Arena in Landover, Md. Still, it's not a large focus of the company's efforts.
"In general, we design our network with great emphasis on establishing penetration in buildings for our customers,'' said Barclay Jones, vice president of engineering for American Personal Communications, which declined to reveal its current number of customers served or annual revenue. "So we don't feel like we need to do a lot of in-building services. But we do it where it's needed.''