London Underground is close to securing a deal to put a mobile network on the tube before the 2012 Olympics.
Huawei, the Chinese manufacturer, is likely to provide the telecoms equipment for the service, which will be installed and maintained by Thales, in partnership with the UK's mobile operators.
Boris Johnson, mayor of London, has been pushing for greater mobile and wireless internet connectivity across the capital ahead of next year's Olympics. BT is already running a trial of WiFi on the tube platform at Charing Cross station.
Mobile access for the tube has been discussed for many years but has been deemed too expensive, due to the practical difficulties of installation. Critics of the scheme fear that terrorists could use a mobile network to remotely detonate bombs on the transport system.
Although no contact with London Underground has been finalised for the mobile network, Huawei is believed to be the only equipment provider in the running, although other manufacturers were also considered, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Under the proposals being considered, Huawei would offer its hardware at a large discount as a loss leader, as part of a wider effort to break into the UK market. The entire system is expected to cost in excess of £100m, with the operators also bearing a large portion of the expense.
Transport for London said discussions were "ongoing".
"TfL and the Mayor of London are currently in discussion with mobile phone operators and other suppliers about the potential provision of mobile phone services on the deep Tube network," it said in a statement. "Given the financial pressures on TfL's budgets, any solution would need to be funded through mobile operators with no cost to fare- or taxpayers."
Huawei said: "Due to business confidentiality, we are unable to comment on the project at this point, but I can confirm that we are involved in the bidding process. The UK is an important market for Huawei."
Thales declined to comment.
If a deal is signed before a deadline of early April, work will begin this summer and must be completed before March 2012.
Such a tight timescale will make the process of installing miniature cells in stations, tunnels and carriages very challenging. As the world's oldest underground network, London's tunnels are deep and its infrastructure ageing, making a particularly difficult environment for such work. Contractors will have just a couple of hours every evening to work on the project.
The Central and Jubilee lines, both of which connect central London with Stratford's Olympic park, are being prioritised ahead of the games. Coverage may be extended to other parts of the tube network after 2012.
Huawei's equipment has faced stringent tests to make sure it is safe and does not cause overheating underground. It will provide a shared network that can be used by all of the UK's mobile operators.
The Chinese company's equipment is already used by BT in the UK. But as it seeks to expand internationally, Huawei has run up against concerns about national security from the US government.
Last week, Washington refused to give security clearance to its acquisition of patents from a US company, 3Leaf, having previously blocked Huawei's planned acquisition of a stake in 3Com, a US networking company, in 2008.
"Huawei is a 100 per cent privately held global company owned entirely by its employees and has no link with the Chinese government," the company said.
Details of Huawei's London Underground bid were first revealed in the Sunday Times.
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