Virgin Media to launch free Wi-Fi for all across London

Getting connected in a major city can be a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. On the one hand, there tend to be more cell towers in metropolitan areas than out in the sticks, so you’re more likely to find higher speeds in the middle of a city than in the middle of nowhere. But on the other hand, the sheer number of users trying to connect, with increasingly data-hungry smartphones and tablets, can overwhelm networks and leave them struggling to keep up with the growing demand for instant access to websites, social feeds and online video.

Some cities have seen the deployment of vast Wi-Fi zones to help ease the burden of traffic on cellular networks. The Telegraph reports that Neil Berkett, CEO of Virgin Media, today confirmed that his company will shortly be doing just that in London, with the intention of providing free Wi-Fi access for everyone across much of the city.

Virgin Media will not be the first company to provide blanket Wi-Fi coverage in London. BT, the UK’s largest telecoms provider, already provides its Openzone network across much of London and the UK, and provides access free to users of its home broadband service. To non-customers, however, connecting to Openzone can be costly, with charges reaching up to £5.99 (around $9.80) for just 90 minutes of browsing. Another provider, The Cloud, operates a Wi-Fi zone across London’s financial district, but provides only 15 minutes of free connectivity per day.

Virgin’s network will allow anyone to connect, free of charge, regardless of whether or not they’re an existing customer, although not everyone will be able to connect at the same speed. Customers of Virgin Media’s home broadband services will be able to get online at up to 10Mbps via the new network; non-subscribers would be limited to speeds of just 512Kbps. However, unlike with Wi-Fi zones from other providers, there would be no limit on how long a user could stay connected.

The company plans to deliver the new Wi-Fi network through much of the same infrastructure that powers its high-speed cable broadband services, and Mr Berkett has stated Virgin is in advanced negotiations with London councils to secure the permissions needed to begin activating the new network “in the not too distant future”, although he was careful not to specify a firm date to investors.

Just over a week ago, Virgin Media announced the world’s fastest cable broadband, successfully establishing a trial in London delivering speeds of 1.5Gbps downstream and 150Mbps upstream. The company also provides the UK’s fastest home broadband service (100Mbps), which is now available to over 6.5m homes.

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