Several major wireless carriers submitted bids Wednesday to wire 277 New York subway stations for cell phone use, including one proposal that involves four of the nation's biggest carriers forming an alliance.

The bids mark a significant step in a long-running effort to make cell phone service available to the millions of New Yorkers who lose mobile phone communications when using the subways.

The 10-year contract calls for the winning bidder to wire only the platforms and not moving trains. But the companies were required to discuss how they would expand the network to the tunnels.

Whoever wins the contract would have to let other carriers use the network, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Tom Kelly said.

Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) teamed up to submit one of the bids, Cingular spokesman Clay Owen said. Atlanta-based Cingular, the nation's largest wireless carrier, will take the project lead if awarded the bid, Owen said.

GE Capital, Time Warner Cable, Andrew Corp., Transit Technologies and Dianet Communications LLC made up the second team that submitted a bid, Dianet President Jeffrey Just said.

"This is the right project at the right time for the MTA," Just said. "The financial model is there for the MTA to earn substantial revenue while increasing the safety, security and services to their riders."

American Tower Corp. also was said to be among the bidders, but the company did not return a call for comment.

The fourth and final bid wasn't disclosed. Kelly said the MTA would not reveal the companies until the viability of their bids is documented, and did not know how long it would take to select a winning bid.

It is not clear if wiring the subways will pay off. Industry experts said it made sense for the companies to form a partnership to allay the costs.

"I think everyone recognizes that there is very little money to be made but they very intelligently approached it from the pool concept to offset costs," said Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex, an IT research firm in New York City.

Spira said the real "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" for the companies was in the wiring of the trains — not in merely making it possible for commuters to talk while waiting on the platforms.