Online underground

 

Rory Cellan-Jones gets a sneak preview of the Tube's new wi-fi service

For a few minutes this morning, I watched Jeremy Hunt giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry, then started watching last night's episode of The Apprentice via the BBC iPlayer. Nothing unusual in that, except that I was doing it deep underground on a London tube platform.

I was being given a sneak preview of the free wi-fi service which is going to be made available on London's Underground system during the Olympics. Virgin Media is hooking up around 80 stations to its fibre network, and then installing access points at various points - on escalators, on platforms, in corridors.

Where the service will not be available is on the trains - except when they are standing at a platform. Transport for London says it would be extremely costly to wire up a tunnel network, some of which dates back to Victorian times. And it seems there's concern too about the reaction of passengers who may still see the tube as a last refuge from the always-on world above ground.

So how does the service work? I logged on via my phone, entered my email address, and then I was online, first on an escalator heading down, then on a tube platform. I checked up on news, sent a historic tweet and then started watching The Apprentice. It seemed very fast, with the video streaming without any buffering. Rather better, in fact, than I get on my home broadband. And a quick speedtest carried out on a TFL employee's tablet computer showed download speeds of over 25Mbps.

Now of course that will change when I'm not the only one using it. And the whole service will be a fascinating experiment in the demand for greater connectivity. Will people feel it's a waste of time because they only have a couple of minutes before they get on a train and lose the signal? Or will they all be rushing to check travel information, update their social networking status, and send emails?

As someone who is addicted to being online, I think this will prove rather popular. And then there will be pressure to make the service available on the trains as well. So, if you're someone who goes underground to get away from it all, make the most of it.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

Instant translation – no longer sci-fi

Automated translation is no longer the stuff of sci-fi fiction, since Skype launched a beta version of its Translator service.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 22.

    Wonderful! Now I can sit there and surf while the tube is stuck between stations due to one disruption or another.

    How about installing signals that don't fail? As a regular user of the system, I would be more appreciative of that than wi-fi.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    Wow, top story.
    It was never difficult and it should have been done 10 years or more back.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 20.

    19 Muppet Master

    Compared with laying fibre across the UK, running a bit of network cable from the street ldown to the platforms and sticking a wireless access point on the end isn't a lot of work. It reaches big pool of users and generates cheap publicity for Virgin.

    In the meantime, as long as people continue to pay for lousy connections, there's no incentive for anyone to improve them.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 19.

    Shows how they can do things quickly when they want to

    So why not do it more quickly and get the rest of the country sorted out?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    why are they so eager to get 25mbps on public transport, when we still havent got more than 1mbps most of the time where i live? all of this wifi on trains and 4g mobile network is great but how about finishing off rolling out home broadband to the rest of the country first?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 17.

    ahh so that's where the £7.30 for my days travel went... it sure as heck didnt go to improve capacity or cooling.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 16.

    so instead of people listening to white "steal me" earphones, they will also be holding the phone out for an easy grab. Which can then be used to buy the thief a Big Mac using NFC

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 15.

    Why is it that it is mainly stupid people who have smart phones?

    A fool with a tool is still a fool.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    Now we have to deal with the addicted sheeple underground as well. Courtesy and manners died with the mobile phone and texting and social media has turned everyone into narcissistic, selfish yobs. But when you cannot escape it anywhere you go it's increasingly depressing. If only they could make cinemas out of the same stuff the tube is made of...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 13.

    We've had WIFI on the Glasgow Subway for almost 2 years now, again like London its only available in the stations or on the platform. Speeds are quite quick, so you can google before you shoogle!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 12.

    Travelling from South New Jersey to NYC a couple of years ago, the bus had great, continuous wifi and a plug on the back of every seat to keep your device charged.

    Just like the mess of a slow digital switchover (handled by the BBC) so now we won't get good mobile data speeds for eons.

    Wifi on parts of the tube? Rory you've just discovered another lesser spotted dinosaur!

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 11.

    I think its about time this happened.. A quick google suggests there are over 275 tube stops in london a cheap wifi router is only £12. Two per station to cover the platfotms just over £6000+ to do this why does it take so long. But this is guess only cover the stations and not the tunnels.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 10.

    Hurrah! People who have a WiFi enabled device and the time and pressing need to use it will have an intermittent, patchy and massively overcontended signal so government can tick a meaningless box. The country is going to hell in a handcart, but some commuters can tweet about their fun time on the underground or raise virtual cows on Facebook or whatever else it is they do. Money well spent...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    This will be really useful, as once you have added the WiFi to your phone ,it will connect altomaticaly. As well my phone provider allow you to make calls over WiFi, so phone will work like normal even when there is no 3G or 2G signal.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    I don't understand all the cynical negative comments above. This is, after all, a free service which will, if it works, enable us to access travel information and use our (otherwise wasted) travel time more productively. More importantly, it is likely to improve the safety of tube platforms because it will enable people to call for help much more easily.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    I am a 'typical' University student, I do browse online quite a lot with an internet connection, but I don't need one everywhere I go, I can tear myself away from the web for long periods of time

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 6.

    Why are they bothering?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 5.

    When TfL says something will be "extremely costly", they mean they will eventually get round to doing it long after everywhere else has it, and they will increase all the fares to pay for it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 4.

    If you're mobility-impaired, while you might use an app to find out line and train status, by the time you get to the platform, that information is out of date, so the opportunity to check at the platform level would be welcome. But not if all the benches are taken up with executives and students doing their 'homework'...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 3.

    Been done before, of course, and with better production values:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYiS_5ezztU

 

Page 1 of 2

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.