So it’s official – after a couple years of delay, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is giving the “green light” for a rollout regarding its deal with the contractor, Transit Wireless LLC, to light up the city’s subway station for cellular phone and Internet services. It wasn’t until after Transit Wireless LLC, partnered with Broadcast Australia that it was able to demonstrate sufficient financial backing to move forward with implementation after their testing of the technologies.

Even though the plan forecasts an outfitting of Manhattan stations for the first two years and all the other 277 stations the following four years, connectivity will most likely be available for subway mezzanines, platforms and other locations of the stations but not in the tunnels. For the MTA and many straphangers, that may be both good and bad.

Overall, I think it’s great that wireless voice and data communication may improve safety for commuters, transit workers and emergency responders while providing critical information in cases of emergencies but can’t help but to wonder how everyday customer experience will change in the subways. While MTA service cuts continue but are building capabilities in telecom services, subway riders facing delays due to fewer but more crowded rides will undoubtedly leverage and find useful the connectivity to let others know they are running late. In addition, it will help ease the congested foot traffic of those who stop in the middle of the stairwells to finish their conversation or send their text messages while entering a station.

While on-net gadgets are integrated in the fabric of our lives, the experience of overhearing private conversations in more confined spaces may test New Yorkers’ patience and potential need to be more wary of their smart phones to prevent higher occurrences of theft. Katharine Seelye for the New York Times recently wrote an article of how Boston’s recent implementation of telecommunications infrastructure in their Orange Line has increased smart phone snatching:

“The police say most thefts occur when passengers are sitting or standing in the subway near the door and paying more attention to their phones than to their surroundings. The thief snatches the phone and darts out of the train just as the doors shut.”

And, yes, I can imagine myself in a situation where I may have just finished writing an important email in the tunnel waiting to get a signal at a station to then send the email, just to find that my BlackBerry has been swept away in the clutches of an opportunist whose timing and reflexes are faster than my-unwitting-self. It’s not a situation that I like thinking about but will certainly make me think twice before I get too involved with the contents of my devices.

On the business side, the MTA is definitely juggling a lot of balls in the air while closing their budget gap, allocating some of the budget towards telecom infrastructure and hedging their bets towards this new revenue stream. In this deal, cellular phone carriers will be paying Transit Wireless LLC for customers to use their infrastructure, while Transit Wireless LLC shares half of the revenue with the MTA. Although this is a great proposition for the MTA, and should the next six years prove fruitful for all stakeholders, outfitting the tunnels could potentially be the next big leap in delivering more quality services.

Based on Wikipedia’s 2009 figures of the subway system, the MTA delivered close to 1.6B rides over 656 miles of revenue-generating tracks. And perhaps in the not-so-distant future, the revenue that could be generated over those same tracks could also be based on telecommunications services. By augmenting their focus and investments into other types of revenue streams, MTA may not only be able to pull themselves through this budgetary crisis but can potentially modernize customer experience by being better positioned to deploy other services on top of the infrastructure (i.e., the iPhone MTA Subway App, HopStop augmented reality app, digital and interactive displays for advertising, etc.).

Mr. Shin is a Moore Fellow and an Inc. 500 award winning executive, who possesses continuous intellectual curiosity in the intersections of business, creativity, and technology, with over eighteen years of well-rounded and seasoned leadership of complex initiatives working with many diverse teams across several industries. He is currently a Co-Founder for Content of Characters, Board Member for Dosha Pops, Co-Founder for In The Lights PR, and Advisory Board Member for TriplAgent; consults, mentors, and advises other startups; and has held senior leadership positions that demand: corporate governance, executive management, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, program management, business transformation, product development, new products / services launch, business development, strategic positioning, technology management and enterprise risk management.