Technology Blog

On October 24, 1994 our customers traveling through New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel were able to do something no one had ever done before – make a wireless phone call.

This October marked the 20th Anniversary of AT&T becoming the first communications company to bring wireless connectivity to the Lincoln Tunnel, making it the first tunnel in the NYC metropolitan area to be wired for mobile devices. We brought connectivity nearly 100 feet below sea level inside a then 57-year-old concrete tunnel, effectively making it The World’s Longest Phone Booth.

To bring cellular coverage to the Lincoln Tunnel back then, we installed more than 24,000 feet of “leaky coax” cabling, which is essentially a long antenna that runs 8,000 feet inside each of the three tubes. Since placing traditional cellular antennas inside the tunnel was impossible due to a large power-washing device that scrubs the walls daily, we needed to deploy a creative solution.  The leaky coax cables work similar to how an irrigation hose works, but instead of water leaking out of the holes in the hose, wireless radio frequencies are emitted providing wireless connectivity.

This allows the cables to provide consistent, reliable coverage throughout the entire length of the tunnels without disrupting the maintenance of the tunnel. The leaky coax cables then connect to cellular base stations, which are located inside large ventilation buildings – one on the Manhattan side and another on the New Jersey side of the tunnel.

Since 1994, we adapted the technology inside the tunnels to keep pace with mobile growth.  As customers began using mobile devices more often and for more than just texting and talking, our engineers upgraded the equipment to handle mobile web browsing, social media app use and more. That meant upgrading the system from 1G/2G technology to 3G/4G technology.

Now fast forward to 2014 and our engineers are currently in the process of upgrading to 4G LTE. We are always working to keep customers connected wherever they may be, including another underground frontier— the subway platform. Similar to the Lincoln Tunnel, NYC’s subway platforms are below ground labyrinths, reaching as far as 180 feet below street level (even deeper than the Lincoln Tunnel). That’s why our engineering teams that worked to bring mobile connectivity to the Lincoln Tunnel 20 years ago are now working to bring mobile connectivity to the subway stations.

It’s all part of our long-standing commitment to help keep customers connected to their mobile devices everywhere they go – below or above ground.   

Bill Smith
Bill Smith President - AT&T Network Operations, AT&T Services Inc