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Does wi-fi on the Tube get your vote?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 14:07 UK time, Friday, 25 March 2011

It's been revealed that commuters will be able to get wi-fi at 120 stations by next June.

What's not yet clear - and won't be for some time - is who will be able to use it for free.

At the moment, a trial at Charing Cross is being run by BT Openzone. It allow those with phones from 02 Tesco Mobile, Orange, Vodafone and other devices with "wi-fi minutes in their contract" to access the broadband.

The service is also free for five million BT broadband customers with unlimited BT Wi-Fi minutes and for BT Openzone customers.

Others have to buy vouchers on the site to use the wi-fi.

The research from Charing Cross Tube station found "that over half of London Underground customers surveyed felt that access to wi-fi would make their experience of using the Tube better".

Obviously meaning just under half thought it wouldn't improve their experience. So it meets the Mayor's 50% "strike mandate rule" - just.

The contract will be put out for tender shortly with the supplier paying Transport for London for the privilege of supplying the wi-fi. TfL will want a good deal financially.

TfL has told me that it will stipulate in any contract that there will be some free access to all users - probably to its websites. So you will be able to find out travel updates.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said:

"The roll out of wi-fi technology across the platforms and public areas of our Tube stations will finally allow Londoners to use mobile devices to pick up their emails, access social media sites and stay in touch with the world above while they traverse our subterranean transport network.

"We are inviting companies to bid to do this before next June, which would mean that even Londoners going underground will be able to keep up to date with the British medal tally at the 2012 Games."

Some experts I've been talking to say wi-fi is by far the easier option than installing mobile phone networks on the Tube. It's also cheaper and less disruptive.

Labour on the London Assembly also say that by giving wi-fi the go ahead while at the same time talking to mobile companies about installing mobile phone equipment it shows confusion in the Mayor's Office about communication on the Tube.

No doubt that would be dismissed by the Mayor.

So could wi-fi be the 3rd way of underground communication? Is this a compromise that'll fly? Actually is it preferable to mobile phone coverage on the Tube??

As ever let me know what you think ...

Follow me on Twitter: TomSEdwards


  • Comment number 1.

    With Skype available on the tube the mobile debate will soon be lost (if like me you are an anti).

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Kit - wifi will only be available at the station though ... so you could make a call for 2 mins I suppose while the train waits before skype drops out... or get off ... ?

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't really see the value of coverage in stations. I don't often spend more than a couple of minutes in them. Data availability in tunnels is what I want.

  • Comment number 4.

    If data (and eventually voice) becomes available in tunnels will this impact on the capacity of the tube? This is a serious question as users will surely take up a little more space when using their devices.

    If use of wi-fi takes off on platforms will we see more congestion there too as even a very small proportion of passengers hanging around for an extra few minutes could lead to capacity problems?

  • Comment number 5.

    Agree with Kit, the WI-FI needs to extend to the tunnels, otherwise passengers will hang about on the platform .... sending that last email.
    Best use of course will be the ability to send urgent emails stating that you are stuck on the tube and that the driver is making wise cracks about how useless the new signaling is.

  • Comment number 6.

    I support it. It will allow access to TFL and tube apps (status, maps, etc) and above ground travel news as well as media to read offline while you are on the journey. You can do this most of the other major cities in the world already.

  • Comment number 7.

    Wi-fi is a no brainer. I guess phone calls underground will come as well, I suppose. In Tokyo, it is considered quite rude to talk on the phone on the subways and overground trains, so if TfL brings in a campaign like this after implementing mobile calls then I'd fully support it.

  • Comment number 8.

    Surely it's a little naive to say because 'over half' say it would make their experience better then just under half must have said it would make their experience worse; there must be a proportion for whom the experience would be neither better or worse.

  • Comment number 9.

    Well, I guess mobile signals is out. good. Wifi is much better for what people want to use phones for on the tube - fast broadband data access, much better than hanging around waiting for 3G to think about giving you an internet connection. Also must be much cheaper to install.

    Who cares what BT Openzone has - surely it's about getting the right company that offers the best deal?

    And I'm surprised how negative the coverage on BBC has been - fears about security concerns?? - cummon Beeb, get with the times and know your tech before you blurt out this kind of guff (or choose better "experts" who are less one-sided). And no, I don't suppose the survey results do mean just under half are against - you forgot those who don't know and/or don't care.

    Well done LU - I'm looking forward to knowing who will be running the wifi. I'll be first in the queue to sign up.

  • Comment number 10.

    i'd far prefer wifi to general coverage. if there was a way to allow everything except voice calls, i'd be happy. however, i generally refer to openzone as brokenzone, because it doesn't work a lot of the time - eg, central london is meant to have blanket coverage, but many places don't, or when you do connect, it doesn't do anything. i wonder if TfL will write into the service contract that it must work?

    @kit: openzone is pretty poor, even in the best conditions, in terms of bandwidth. i've rarely made a successful skype call on one. i don't think many people will bother even trying, when it'll be so much easier and quicker to facebook, tweet etc.

  • Comment number 11.

    10. At 11:07am on 29th Mar 2011, els76uk

    Some of us oldies have to communicate with people outside the online community!


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