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Virgin's Wi-Fi on the Tube: How good is it?

Six London Underground stations now have free Wi-Fi access for the summer, provided by Virgin Media. ZDNet UK went down in the Tube stations at midday to find out whether the service works and what kind of speeds can you expect
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Topic: Networking
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London Underground Virgin Wi-Fi splash login

Virgin Media has begun switching on its free Wi-Fi service for the London Underground, part of a plan to provide access at more than 80 stations this summer, when the city hosts the Olympic Games.

The first stations — King's Cross and Warren Street — got connected on Thursday, followed by Oxford Circus and Green Park on Friday, and Victoria and Euston on Saturday.

On Monday, ZDNet UK went hands-on with the Wi-Fi at those stations, to see what kind of speeds Virgin is delivering.

The first stop was King's Cross. On the platform, we tried connecting to the service for the first time. Scanning for the network name 'Virgin Media Wi-Fi' connected the device to the network and launched the splash login screen (pictured), where people must register an email address to use the service.

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London Underground Virgin Wi-Fi provides tube line status updates

Once you're registered and logged on, you see the default home page. This is Virgin Media's portal, but with the addition of a Twitter ticker at the bottom of the screen showing status updates and delays for London Underground lines.

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London Underground Virgin Wi-Fi speeds range between 7Mbps and 34Mbps

ZDNet UK performed Wi-Fi speed tests at each of the six stations. The best download speed was at Green Park, with a maximum of 34.4Mbps. The station also scored a touch above 10Mbps upload speed and had a ping time of just 37ms.

The worst rates were seen at King's Cross, which had a download speed of 7.6Mbps, and upload speed of 7Mbps. The other four stations returned download speeds of between 19Mbps and 33Mbps.

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London Underground Virgin Wi-Fi service can easily stream iPlayer content

Virgin's Wi-Fi service will be free for all customers over the summer, becoming chargeable after the Olympics have ended. It is clearly intended for social networking and emailing, despite the impressive download speeds, as there is typically not much time to do more between Tube trains.

Nevertheless, in our testing Virgin's service had no problem dealing with tasks such as running Flash-heavy websites or watching Coast on BBC iPlayer.

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London Underground Virgin Wi-Fi is under publicised

This commuter was spotted working away while waiting for a train at King's Cross, but was unaware of the free Wi-Fi network until we spoke to him.

There are no signs or advertising visible on the platforms to indicate that the service is live and free to use. Virgin has not revealed what it will charge non-customers for the Wi-Fi after the free use ends after the summer.

The operator hopes to have the service live in at least 82 stations by the end of July, and in a total of 120 by the end of 2012. 

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