The internet has gone underground. This summer Virgin is supplying free web access on the platforms of London’s Tube train network, and will continue to offer it as a paid-for service afterwards.
Connecting to the service is easy enough. We started at King’s Cross with an iPhone 4S and it was surprisingly easy to get online. It’s an open Wi-Fi connection with a web-based portal – you simply need to enter your email address and check the terms and conditions.
Once online, you are initially taken to a Virgin Media and TFL portal with news and transport-related information. But you can browse freely and use (as far as we can tell) all Wi-Fi-related services. There’s a content filtering system in place, however, so you can’t access porn on the underground.
We were able to conduct a problem-free FaceTime conversation from King’s Cross Tube platform
Exactly how many platforms have the service isn’t quite clear. The first two are supposed to be King’s Cross and Warren Street, but we also tested the journey on the Victoria line and got connections at Oxford Circus, Euston and Victoria. Virgin is activating new lines at the moment and there should be 80 stations up and running soon, with 120 in total eventually.
The connection we got was good; very good, in fact. We used Speedtest.net to measure the connection and got 6.71Mbps download and a whopping 11.57Mbps upload connection. It’s fair to note that we were one of the few people in the station using the system (it had only just been turned on) and how fast a connection you get during rush hour when it’s in full swing will be more telling, but for now it’s pretty darn fast. It’s interesting that it has a much faster upload speed than download; perhaps Virgin Media wants to ensure that people can send outgoing emails and messages accurately.
As well as the usual phone tasks – email, Twitter, web browsing, and downloading news from the Guardian app – we also managed to send an iMessage, place a FaceTime call and use the BBC iPlayer app. You’ll find this makes an underground journey a heck of a lot more fun than it normally is.
Get off the train
It’s important to note that the service only works inside the stations themselves, and not on the moving train. However, the service did seem to work throughout all of both King’s Cross and Euston, so it’ll be good for waiting for trains as well as the underground.
When you’re on a moving train you should be able to connect to the platform at every stop, although you may find the speed the connection makes an issue. The trains move quickly and in many instances the Wi-Fi connection is made just as the train pulls out, or it simply won’t make a connection in time.
The connection is fast enough to sustain streaming via the BBC’s iPlayer service
Placing Wi-Fi (as well as cellular connection) on the trains themselves is a contentious issue (as is the Wi-Fi in the stations themselves), with security concerns being a factor. So for now it’s platforms only.
The great news is that the service is free all summer, and after the Olympics, Virgin Media will be providing a paid-for service or offering it in conjunction with other Virgin packages. There are no specifics yet, but we imagine it’ll be free or sold at a discount for Virgin broadband or mobile customers.