London minicab firm greentomatocars is now providing free Wi-Fi in its 300 vehicles, which must be seen as part of a long-term trend. Earlier this week, Virgin Media announced that it had installed Wi-Fi at 41 London tube stations, with 120 planned before the end of the year, while The Cloud is providing Wi-Fi connections at all of London Overground's 56 railway stations. Wi-Fi is also being tested on some National Express coach services, including the route from Stansted airport to central London.
London is still a long way from a major breakthrough of the sort that would come from installing free Wi-Fi on London buses, moving tube trains, or standard black cabs. However, users who value Wi-Fi services have a growing number of ways to stay connected.
Greentomatocars (which uses hybrid electric vehicles) says its service is based on 3G mobile broadband using Wireless Logic networked SIM cards. Download speeds can be up to 7.2Mbps, and upload speeds up to 2Mbs. Customers log on using the password ilovefreewifi.
The company's founder, Jonny Goldstone (below), says London is already home to more software and IT companies than any other European city, and the sector is expected to account for a third of London's growth. "You don’t have to work in the technology industry to see the importance of connectivity," he says.
There is a growing need for mobile connectivity because of traffic- and location-based services. The Virgin Media service, for example, connects users to Transport for London's journey planner. People who use social networking services, such as Twitter and Facebook, also need more frequent connections. It might be OK to reply to an email within a day or two, but on social networks, users often reply within an hour or two.
Many travellers already connect to internet services via their smartphones, while laptop users may have USB dongles or a Mifi portable hotspot to convert 3G mobile signals to Wi-Fi. However, free Wi-Fi still has a strong appeal to the growing number of tablet users, most of which can only connect via Wi-Fi.