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London Could Soon Get Free Wi-Fi Everywhere 190

fangmcgee writes "London could soon be covered with a free public WiFi network as Virgin Media moves to challenge BT's Openzone network. Virgin Media's network would be freely available to anyone at 0.5Mbps, and to subscribers to its home broadband at speeds up to a blistering 10Mbps. The proposals would see WiFi routers installed in each of the company's street-side cabinets, which distribute its cable network to homes and businesses."
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London Could Soon Get Free Wi-Fi Everywhere

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  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @02:07AM (#36982286)
    Looks like Sir Richard Branson is kicking the establishment's ass... AGAIN.

    What happened to the USA that WE don't seem to have many people like this anymore? Where are they? Why don't they step up?

    Burt Rutan was one. He's retired now. A well-deserved retirement. And I don't think it's a coincidence that he and Branson found each other.
    • Don't worry, we have Trump. He'll......oh crap.
    • What happened to the USA that WE don't seem to have many people like this anymore?

      We [muniwireless.com] do. [blogspot.com]

      True, it's not giving away wifi to a major metro area like New York, but the Google guys don't count as entrepreneurs that kick the establishment's ass and, er, have testicles? Because while Virgin is giving away free internet, and that's nice, Google is giving me free maps and free* e-mail that's much better than the e-mail service I had before.

      • By the way: if you think anything Google gives you is "free", then you don't know how it works.
        • You install AdBlock Plus in the web browser that Google designed, and those ads disappear. Unless you want to wear tinfoil hats...

    • by MacTO ( 1161105 )

      Entrepreneurs usually want to make money, and don't want to lose it. So here's some basic questions that you should ask before praising Branson and bemoaning the lack of free WiFi in your home town:

      1) Does the density justify it. Too few people per square mile means that you'll never recover the cost of infrastructure.

      2) Are enough people willing to pay. Note the tiered system, that's because someone has to pay for it. Maybe Londoners are more willing to pay than Americans (or even people in other parts

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        The best thing is that because it's "free", and because it's advertised to have a relatively low bandwidth, he can probably get away with much less than 0.5 Mbps while at the same time harvesting data for relatively little cost. I mean it's "free" but I expect you'll have to log in or give an email or something... oh and lo and behold, people love to use the same email and usernames for everything...
      • London is largest metropolitan area by population in the EU

        And :
        NYC 8,175,133
        London 7,825,200

        So yes it is worth it ...

        • by dkf ( 304284 )

          London is largest metropolitan area by population in the EU

          And :
          NYC 8,175,133
          London 7,825,200

          So yes it is worth it ...

          Not just that, Eurostat reckons that London's over 11 million people in size (it's bigger than its official boundaries) and even that is probably an underestimation. (OTOH, NYC is probably bigger than the official 8-and-a-bit million above too.)

          Measuring the size of cities is surprisingly difficult.

      • Branson has a long history now of nailing it on the head. I would hardly think he hasn't done his research.

        That's no guarantee, of course. But the man has some smarts.
        • by MacTO ( 1161105 )

          I'm sure that Branson has done his research and there's a good chance that it would work in London or New York. But the original post just said USA.

          American cities are notoriously low density. There are maybe three cities with over 500,000 people and a population density greater than London. Cities like New York and London are also relatively rich, so there's a good chance of recovering costs. Most parts of the USA aren't so rich (and I'm guessing the same goes for the UK).

          So I'm not questioning what Br

          • by cbope ( 130292 )

            Please, not the same tired old population density excuse used in the mobile phone industry to defend why the US has such crappy service and coverage compared to, like, anywhere else.

        • You realise that Branson hasn't had anything to do with Virgin Media for quite a few years? He licenses them the trademark and has nothing more to do with the company (he even sold his shares a long time ago).

          The logic behind this is that Virgin has a cable network that basically sits idle during the day. Providing free WiFi is cheap for them, and will provide a lot of advertising. It will cost them about £2m to deploy (their numbers), which is a lot less than a big advertising campaign. If they'

      • by Tim C ( 15259 )
        On 2), they are talking about 0.5Mbps free to anyone, and up to 10Mbps free to their home broadband subscribers. No one is directly paying for it, at least as current envisaged. I imagine one possibility is that they hope this will increase uptake of their broadband service; think of it as an advertising campaign that's actually useful. Also as others have mentioned Virgin Media is nothing to do with Branson, though that doesn't change your main point.
        • by xaxa ( 988988 )

          According to this article [which.co.uk], O2 mobile broadband customers already get access to WiFi hotspots run by "The Cloud" (I see these quite often, usually in pubs), and T-Mobile customers to T-Mobile's hotspots. This helps them reduce demand for 3G spectrum in busy places (stations, airports etc).

          It seems Virgin rolling out a similar service, and as a Virgin customer I may well find it useful. However, my 3G signal is usually excellent and unmetered.

    • by Spad ( 470073 )

      Virgin Media isn't actually part of the Virgin group, they just acquired the rights to the name after NTL and Telewest merged a few years ago.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      They're all tied up for the next 30 years in court fighting the zillions of meritless lawsuits from the incumbents whose only "innovators" are in the legal or lobbying departments.

      The rest never made it that far and are either in the soup lines after trying or they're busy in their cubicles filling out expense reports and timesheets (in 5 minute intervals) hoping one day they can get the funds together to put their ideas in practice. The venture capitol they need is busy chasing people with empty heads, exp

      • by AC-x ( 735297 )

        They're all tied up for the next 30 years in court fighting the zillions of meritless lawsuits from the incumbents whose only "innovators" are in the legal or lobbying departments.

        It's not quite that bad in the UK, yet...

    • by Tim C ( 15259 )
      This has nothing to do with Branson, Virgin Media just licence the name and aren't actually part of the group.
    • Appearances can be deceptive. Branson doesn't actually run a lot of the Virgin companies. The Virgin brand name is licensed out. In the case of Virgin Media, Branson owns 10% in return for the brand name. He's not the one calling the shots there. And if he was, it would be tarnishing his reputation, as Virgin Media has a pretty bad name in the UK.

    • If a company in the USA put WiFi routers all over a US city in "street side cabinets", they would probably be sued by anyone who goes near the cabinets then later gets any type of cancer (or slight cough probably).

    • But entrepreneurs are the essence of the establishment. Anyone who devotes their time and energy to making money is unlikely to be a political revolutionary.
  • This is really going to test those who are allergic to wifi......who is thinking of the children!
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      .....who is thinking of the children!

      This is, unfortunately, why i think this is going to be free as in beer, but not as in speech. The risk of someone using it for child porn will likely outweigh any other concerns, and "for all" will be limited to "for all who will register and identify themselves before being accepted as a user", not including those unwilling to sign up, transient people who don't have time to sign up (tourists and people in London for a day), and, of course, unregistered immigrants or children.

      As for "blazing 10 Mbps", w

      • I would consider 10 Mbps to be 'blazing', but that is because I am a Virgin Media customer.

      • As for "blazing 10 Mbps", where does the author live that he calls that blazing? Malawi [netindex.com]?

        Well, your link says that the average for the UK is 10.65Mbps. For free WiFi, the competition is mobile, and the fastest I've seen advertised for mobile Internet is 7.2Mb/s (which probably means a maximum of 2-3Mb/s in real world use) with small caps, so 10Mb/s with no cap is indeed good. My home Internet is 10Mb/s. I can get up to 50Mb/s (100Mb/s being rolled out soon), but there isn't much point at the moment. My last mile is rarely a bottleneck.

        Oh, and the plans I read were for 2Mb/s for everyone,

      • As for "blazing 10 Mbps", where does the author live that he calls that blazing? Malawi [netindex.com]?

        Or, according to your own link, any of the other 100 countries (~58% of the list) whose average download speed is less than half of that speed? Only around 19% of the countries on that list have average download speeds of 10Mbps or greater. But yes you're right, 10Mbps in London is probably on the low end of the spectrum. On the other hand, I suspect 10Mbps, to many people living in rural England, or even those in the commuter belt, might be considered "blazingly fast".

    • It's evolution in action. Anyone so high-strung that they have to invent illnesses will die early of stress.

  • TFA subhead says "public", but it is actually a privately owned service.
  • "Free wifi all over town" was all the rage here in California for a few years. Google promised they'd blanket Mountain View in free wifi, San Francisco had a similar deal.

    But in the end, the economics didn't work out so well. Google set up hotspots here and there but it was hardly "all over."

    It's hard to complain about getting something for free, but don't believe the hype.

    • The summary is wrong. Virgin aren't offering the WiFi free. You either have to be a customer of Virgin Media (cable at home) or Virgin Mobile (cellular) to get the WiFi free. Others will need to subscribe or pay-as-you-go for the WiFI, just as they do for BT OpenZone already.

  • What are the chances that Boingo (and Heathrow, which surely gets revenue from Boingo) is not going to fight this, after spending the money they have adding wifi to London Heathrow? Anyone know the terms of their agreement (surely it isn't forever)?


    • by AC-x ( 735297 )

      By "London" I assume they mean central London, and given they'll be installing the equipment in their cable junction boxes I doubt places like Heathrow would be covered anyway.

  • Speed (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:06AM (#36982626) Homepage

    freely available to anyone at 0.5Mbps

    So the same speed as what paying customers receive right now :P

    • Except that caps are not possible anymore. Which, considering the way most ISPs go, is awesome.

    • by AC-x ( 735297 )

      Actually credit where credit is due their broadband service has been pretty good for me, I regularly hit 1.5+ meg/sec on my 20mbit line.

      • by seinman ( 463076 )
        You're only getting 60% of what you've been promised, and you're calling that "pretty good?" I'd call that pretty terrible. I'm in the US on Comcast (so there's two things working against me) and I regularly get 90% to 125% of my advertised line speed.
        • by AC-x ( 735297 )

          1.5 plus meg/sec in real world usage, most things aren't that fast from the source but a good torrent will give between 1.5 and 2 meg/sec, and I'm assuming that a 20 mbps line will never give you 2.5 meg/sec data rate once control bits are taken into account.

    • I'm on their cheapest 10Mb/s package, and I can easily get 1.1MB/s, which is about 8.8Mb/s. Not quite the advertised speed, but pretty close, especially when you include protocol overhead. Their customer support is horrible, but their network is pretty good.
      • I'm on their cheapest 10Mb/s package, and I can easily get 1.1MB/s, which is about 8.8Mb/s. Not quite the advertised speed, but pretty close, especially when you include protocol overhead. Their customer support is horrible, but their network is pretty good.

        Assuming cable modems have the same overhead as POTS modems (which they should, since they use basically the same encoding schemes), you should figure that each byte takes approximately 9 bits to transfer due to framing and error coding. Then there's also the (much smaller) overhead of IP and TCP. So I'd say that 1.1MB/s is pretty much exactly 10 Mb/s -- and maybe a little more.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      That was my first thought too. I have an "up to" 10 meg "unlimited" connection. In the evenings YouTube and iPlayer stutter and freeze all the time, but if I switch over to Vodafone 3G they are fine. My "unlimited" connection also has a download limit of 1.5GB, after which you are sentenced to 5 hours of throttling to less than 20% the speed you pay for.

      I would switch but my phone line doesn't work with ADSL and BT don't give a shit so I am basically trapped with Virgin.

  • I think Philadelphia was the first major city that attempted to do this, following almost exactly the same model Branson is proposing - a free lower-cost tier, and the option to pay for higher-speed service. This was something like four or five years ago. The city contracted with Earthlink, who got started but quickly realized there was no way this wasn't going to cost them a lot of money.

    The linked story doesn't provide any detail at all, other than the fact Virgin plans/hopes to do this - so I'm curious t

    • First, this has nothing at all to do with Branson. Virgin Media licenses a trademark from him, and that's the extent of his involvement with the company.

      They're able to provide this because they have a large consumer last-mile network that is mostly idle during the day. This means that the only cost for them is deploying the access points. The rest of the infrastructure is there already. The free network then serves as an advert for Virgin. If you aren't one of their customers, you get 0.5Mb/s everywh

  • by RivenAleem ( 1590553 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @04:34AM (#36982968)
    This is going to be great for the tourist industry. Being able to advertise that all of London has free wifi will encourage people to visit. I was in Paris recently and trying to find a particular restaurant. I don't have a WAP phone (and if I had I'd be annoyed at the roaming charges) but I has my iPod Touch. I stalked about looking for an unsecured wifi to try load up google maps, and eventually found a McDonalds free hotspot. If what Virgin is planning to offer had been available I'd be able to open my maps anywhere and follow it right to my destination. Add to that Skype/Google voice, email, web searching etc. and it will boost London's attractiveness for tourists.
    • That's the thing that bugs me about the iPod Touch: It always assumes you have an internet connection.

      You could've made things work by hopping from wifi to wifi if it bothered caching things a little bit. Like, the maps app caching a half-mile radius of its max detail around you, so that the wifi finder app would have a place to paint its cached store. Or the restaurant finder apps caching a few megabytes worth of restaurant info. (which my guess, would cover well over a half-mile...)

      Even the smallest iP

  • Remember how San Francisco announced it was getting free WiFi everywhere?
    How did that go?
    It was years ago so all you people in SF must just be taking your free WiFi for granted now right?

    Actually this time it might just work because it's not being implemented by a completely useless bastard that uses the threat of jail time to solve minor employee management problems.
  • I am (unforuntately) a subscriber in North London to Virgin Medias Cable service (over fibre).
    Considering there inabilty to deliver anywhere near my expectations of 20mb i pay through the roof for. (sometimes its as slow as dialup).
    I dont hold much hope for them delivering this kind of service.

    The trouble right now in the UK is we only have one cable service provider able to deliver very high speeds. Virgin Media
    basically have a monopoly on Cable. Virgin were brilliant when i lived north of the Midlands but

    • by Tim C ( 15259 )
      Just to echo the AC that also replied, I've been on Virgin cable for a couple of years in east London (Elm Park) and have absolutely no complaints at all - I frequently get 1.1MBps or more from my 10Mbps line. Compared to the atrocious time I had on my 8Mbps ADSL line (frequent drop-outs, throttling down to 30Kbps by the equipment at the exchange due to line problems, never connected at more than about 2Mbps and performed like 1Mbps, etc) it's an absolute dream.

      That said, I do have friends who have had o
  • It won't be all over London, it won't be free, and it won't be public.

  • I've been thinking about reliability of connectivity quite a bit recently... Using a 3G dongle as a backup is one option - but with this option attracting either a noticable monthly charge or requiring a pre-pay to be renewed every 1 or 3 months... it is a bit frustrating... for a service I hope I never need to use. I'm currently wavering on the brink of taking the plunge - the clincher will be if I find time to convince myself that I can configure automatic fail-over satisfactorily.

    The first interesting

    • by Tim C ( 15259 )

      Why bother with a pay-go mobile for texts if you can be connected to the web at 0.5mbps everywhere you go?

      Well I for one won't be lugging my laptop (or even a netbook) around everywhere I go just so I can keep in touch with people.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      I don't see that wifi run from a cable companies street-side boxes is all that good as a backup. First, your signal is likely to be appalling (run something like inSSIDer and see how many networks you can pick up from indoors - you'll get you, your immediate neighbours, maybe a couple of others - now where's the nearest street cabinet to you?), second it's likely to be busy and overcrowded in any populated area (even if by accident of homeowner's laptops defaulting to it by mistake, or people sitting in ca

  • Sounds amazing. Still, I bet there will be a fine for sending your data packets through the downtown area during peak hours.

  • I love this dual speed free/non-free model. If we had this here I would buy the fast service for browsing use but then would wifi-enable every project, sensors, robots, etc... using the free access. That would be awesome! It's never going to happen in the US though. In this environment I bet if one telecom did this the others could sue and actually succeed at shutting it down based on it hurting their business model or something like that.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.