London Underground is inviting potential suppliers to discuss building a new and more secure communications infrastructure for its network.

London Underground's current CONNECT communications backbone has been under construction since the late nineties, but is rapidly becoming obsolete as the public sector strives to build extra security into its critical infrastructure.

It has been reported that London Underground is considering the introduction of driverless trains, such as on the Docklands Light Railway. It is not clear whether the new comms system will be designed to support such a move.

Since the terrorist bombings on the London Underground there have been calls for improved communications underground to help the emergency services better deal with future attacks or potential threats. Added to this are passenger expectations that they should be able to use their mobile web devices while travelling underground.  

Through a tender notice London Underground is "seeking expressions of interest for participation in a technical dialogue to identify technologies that will support its next generation 'deep tube programme'".

The chosen comms system must be able to manage large volumes of real time data as well as historical information from distributed video, voice and data sources, and enabling controlled access to fixed and mobile users, often 5.5m below ground level.

London Underground wants advice on "understanding appropriate trends and innovation for communications and networking technology - switching and routing, network processors and wireless technologies - for an industry that requires high levels of security across a distributed and mobile user-base".

The aim of the "tender" is "not to procure any part of the solution arrived at", said London Underground, but to "provide information on what is available and what is being developed in the market place", and "providing a comparative analysis, thus enabling LU to optimise the future capability of its communications and information management systems".

The tender notice asks potential bidders to answer certain questions in relation to what they see as the future comms system.

The comms system is expected to support a newly revamped tube system through the 'deep tube programme', which is expected to be ready by 2018 at the earliest.
"The operation and maintenance of the new tube system will be heavily dependent upon secure, resilient and fully integrated systems, far more so than is currently the case," said LU.

The need for maintenance "must be minimal and must address the difference in the life expectancy of railway assets (10 - 30 years) and IT assets (3-7 years)".
It is expected that an outline solution will have been specified by April 2012 and that the procurement process will be started in June 2012. Those providing pre-tender advice may be invited to bid.