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The 30 miles of the Channel tunnel connecting England to France have until now offered a welcome pause from the trilling of mobile phones. Not any more. From this spring, Eurotunnel passengers will be able to tell callers “I’m on Le Shuttle” from 100 metres below sea level.
The north tunnel, through which the Eurostar and car-carrying shuttle transport passengers from Britain to the continent, is to be plugged into the public mobile phone network for the first time.
The British operators Vodafone and EE – owner of the Orange and T-Mobile brands – have signed a 10-year contract to offer their customers mobile and internet services beneath the Channel, and expect to have the service ready in March. EE is promising 4G by summer 2014, and Vodafone intends to make the fast mobile internet technology available in future.
The agreement is a boon for British travellers. France’s three largest networks have run a mobile service in the south tunnel, which runs from France to England, since June 2012. Installed in time to serve customers travelling to the Olympics, it has until now had no matching service in the opposite direction.
Eurotunnel said it had received letters and emails from passengers requesting the two-way service. The 20 million travellers passing through the Channel tunnel each year will now be able to make calls, send emails, research hotels and stream music.
“Being connected is such an important part of travelling now,” said Fotis Karonis, chief technology officer at EE. He added that the service would make a big difference to business workers and people going away on holiday.
There will be no disruption to services in the north tunnel because the work to install mobile radios and cables has already been done. Eurotunnel hired Alcatel Lucent to wire up both sections in 2011 so that its drivers and technicians could make calls. The tunnels have radios every 740 metres linked by cables which “leak” signal so that the connection does not fade in and out between radio points.
Customers of the other two British networks, O2 and Three, will be able to use their phones underground by manually switching over to EE or Vodafone’s service, although such calls will cost extra. British passengers travelling back can use their phones by paying extra to roam on the French networks.
“We are talking with the other operators to see whether they would like to join in as well. There is capacity for all the operators to use the equipment that is down there at the moment,” said John Keefe, a spokesman for Eurotunnel.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk