The big 4 carriers will bring LTE to Chicago’s subways

4G services are finally coming to Chicago’s subways. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are collectively installing a $32.5 million LTE upgrade in the Chicago Transit Authority’s 22 miles of subway tunnels, allowing commuters to continue chatting, streaming and gaming when they go underground.

As a Chicagoan I know the frustration of losing your smartphone connection when your train car dips below ground level, but you non-Chicagoans may be asking yourselves “Chicago has subways?” Yes: While the name of the Chicago metro train system is the “L”, which is short for “elevated,” Chicago’s two main lines go underground for about 20 stops when they approach downtown.

That means for many L riders, the last 10 or 15 minutes of the commute becomes a wireless dead zone, forcing you to deal with the reality that you’re in a train packed wall-to-wall with other people. When the carriers complete the upgrade – targeted for the end of 2015 — we should be able to continue surfing to our hearts’ content.

[company]T-Mobile[/company], which is taking the lead on the project, will coordinate the construction of a distributed antenna system (DAS) throughout Chicago’s tunnels. Then all four of the operators will connect their networks to it. You can think of a DAS as a cell tower broken into its component parts. Instead of putting a cluster of antennas at the top of a mast, T-Mobile will install individual transmitters throughout the tunnels, which will connect back to a central location called a base station hotel somewhere in the depths of the city. The carriers will all install their network gear in that hotel.

This isn’t the first DAS to appear in Chicago’s subway. Allgon Telecom built a 2G network in Chicago’s subway a decade ago, but the voice-centric system barely worked then and it’s next to useless now. Hopefully, this long-needed upgrade will finally fix Chicago’s underground dead zone problem so we can return to the warm embrace of our smartphones at the end of our commutes. What else are we going to do? Talk to each other?

UK carriers agree to boost coverage, avoiding national roaming

The British government has gotten the country’s four big mobile operators to agree to boost their coverage, to tackle so-called not-spots in rural areas.

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone said Thursday that they would jointly invest £5 billion ($7.8 billion) in the program over the next couple of years. This will result in guaranteed voice and SMS coverage over 90 percent of the U.K. geographic area, with services from all four operators going up from 69 percent to 85 percent of the land.

According to the most recent statistics from telecoms regulator Ofcom, 99.7 percent of premises can now get outdoor 2G mobile coverage from at least one carrier, and 99.5 percent can get 3G coverage. However, geographical coverage is another story – more like 80 percent – and today’s agreement is intended to provide connectivity to those in remote areas.

The government said in a statement that the deal, which involves amendments to the operators’ licence conditions, would halve the areas “currently blighted by patchy coverage as a result of partial ‘not-spots.'”

“I am pleased to have secured a legally binding deal with the four mobile networks,” Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said in the statement. “Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts.”

Javid had previously threatened to create a “national roaming” framework, through which the carriers would have been forced to let their customers lock onto whichever network was providing a signal in a given location, if their own wasn’t available.

The idea saw tremendous pushback not only from the operators, who argued it would “limit incentives for investment in future mobile network infrastructure,” but also from the Home Office, which said it would make it more difficult for authorities to spy on people.

“A partnership between government and the mobile operators is required to maximise coverage across the UK, so this agreement is a good outcome for our customers,” O2 COO Derek McManus said in the statement. “It will support investment in our network, while ensuring that strong competition remains between the different networks.”

Verizon goes underground, joining NYC’s subway station coverage project

Three of the big four carriers have already started beaming their cellular signals into the depths of New York City’s subway system as part of the Transit Wireless project. Soon they’ll be joined by Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod), which said on Tuesday it will install its base station gear in the 36 stations Transit currently covers. Transit’s ultimate goal is to bring mobile connectivity to all of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 277 underground stations by 2016.