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Huawei to gift underground coverage to London

From one Olympic nation to another

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Huawei is apparently planning to give away the kit necessary to connect up the London tube, with O2 and Vodafone paying for installation the underground could be covered by the Olympics.

The Chinese kit supplier will make money maintaining the systems, and will get a decent foothold in the UK market by supplying the hardware as a loss leader, the Sunday Times revealed yesterday. But it is an expensive way to get into the country, with the network expected to cost around £100m all together.

No contracts have yet been signed, so quite how free the kit will be remains to be seen.

The Financial Times reckons that large discounts are on the table, despite the fact that Huawei is the only supplier still being considered for the scheme. Once in operation, the network – which will carry calls for all the operators – will be maintained by Thales, who will share the job with Huawei.

Getting mobiles operating underground is tough – London's tube network is very deep and very old, lacking the conduits and access pathways (not to mention fire escapes) of more-modern networks, all of which makes mobile coverage extremely difficult to supply.

There is strong feeling that despite the technical issues it would serve London well to have ubiquitous mobile coverage by the Olympics, but to do that a contract will need to be signed in the next month or two. More likely they'll cover the Central and Jubilee lines, on which Olympics-attending tourists are likely to travel, while the rest of us wait patiently to see if Huawei's kind offer extends beyond 2012. ®

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