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Virgin closes in on Tube Wi-Fi target as Olympics loom

Virgin Media has switched on free Wi-Fi at 73 London Underground stations, having promised to get it live at 80 locations before the Games start on Friday
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Virgin Media has now turned on free Wi-Fi service at 73 stations on the London Underground, as it pushes forward with its plan to resell the Tube service to other operators.

Tube Wi-Fi
Virgin Media will let other mobile companies resell its Wi-Fi service on the Tube as part of their packages. Image credit: Ben Woods/ZDNet

Virgin is aiming to turn on Wi-Fi service at 80 Tube locations before the start of the Olympic Games in London on Friday. Since the first six stations went live at the beginning of June, it has pulled in more than 240,000 registered users, according to figures revealed by the company in its second-quarter earnings report. In early hands-on ZDNet testing, download speeds at various stations ranged from 7Mbps to 33Mbps.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 73 stations have Wi-Fi available. Archway, Seven Sisters and Swiss Cottage should go live soon, according to Virgin.

The telecoms provider has been having talks with mobile operators and ISPs for them to resell service on the Tube's Wi-Fi network at the end of the summer, the company said.

"We're speaking to a range of potential wholesale partners, including mobile operators, ISPs and other service providers, about our new Wi-Fi service on London Underground. We want to make Wi-Fi on London Underground widely available, with a wholesale model combining the best consumer experience with real choice," a Virgin Media spokesman told ZDNet.

The company competes in mobile with O2, Three, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone, among others. If it can get operators on board, the service would run on top of Virgin Media's network, though customers would see their usual operator name on their devices.

If another operator decides to resell the services, it's likely that the additional feature will be bundled with existing products. Virgin hopes to have at least one wholesale partner on board before the end of 2012.

The London Underground service is free to everyone for the summer, during the Olympic Games. After that it will come at no extra cost to existing Virgin Media customers, while others can get it on a pay-as-you-go basis. Access to the Tube Wi-Fi splash portal, which provides information about the London Underground services, is expected to remain free to all.

Virgin has not yet said how much pay-as-you-go access will cost. It plans to have switched on Wi-Fi in 120 London Underground stations before the end of 2012.

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