SAPPORO – Mobile communications services will be available from next March aboard Hokkaido Shinkansen Line trains traveling through the undersea Seikan Tunnel, the communications ministry, Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) and three major mobile phone carriers have announced. Currently, passengers cannot use smartphones or other communication devices for roughly 25 minutes while the shinkansen passes through the tunnel.
Mobile access is only provided at two evacuation areas within the 53.85-kilometer tunnel, which runs under the seabed in the Tsugaru Strait between the northern prefectures of Aomori and Hokkaido.
Equipment to relay radio waves between mobile devices and carrier base stations will be installed at 1-kilometer intervals in the tunnel by the end of March next year, while fiber-optic cables will also be laid, the ministry and the companies said.
Considering the increase in foreign tourists, “mobile access is essential for collecting information and using translation apps,” Yoshiaki Takeuchi, director-general of the communication ministry’s Radio Department, told reporters in Sapporo. “We hope to make mobile access available in shinkansen tunnels nationwide.”
JR Hokkaido will not have to shoulder the costs as the ministry will apply a new system where railway companies that have been posting operating losses for the past 10 years are exempt from paying for the installation of communication equipment in shinkansen tunnels.