London Underground Virgin Media WiFi review: free internet access rolls out to tube stations

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 WiFi connection with a web-based portal. You need to enter your email address and check the terms and conditions (although there is no to click on the email it sends you to get onto the system).

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 WiFi-related services. There is a content filtering system in place, so you can’t access porn on the underground (which we can all agree is probably a good thing).

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 also got connections at Oxford Circus, Green Park, Euston, and Victoria. Virgin is activating new lines at the moment and there should be a full service shortly. There should be 80 stations up and running soon, with 120 in total. More information is available at Virgin Media's FAQ service.

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 is fair to note that we were one of the few people in the station using the system (as it’s 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 interested 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.

See also: Macworld Secrets - testing your LAN speed

Virgin Media WiFi Underground Speed Test

The London Underground WiFi test shows high speed benchmark performance. Although the service is being used by limited people at the moment.

As well as being able to do the usual phone tasks: email, Twitter, web browsing, and download news from The Guardian App; we also managed to send an iMessage, place a FaceTime call and use the BBC iPlayer app. All in all this made the underground journey a heck of a lot more fun than it normally is.

It’s important to note that the service only works inside the stations themselves, and not on the moving train. Although 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.

Virgin Media WiFi BBC iPlayer Test

Using the Virgin Media London Underground WiFi service to test out BBC iPlayer

When you’re on a moving train you should be able to connect to the platform at every stop, although we found the speed that the connection made was an issue. The trains move quickly and in many instances the WiFi connection was made as the train was pulling out, or didn’t manage to make a connection in time.

Placing WiFi (as well as cellular connection) on the trains themselves is a contentious issue (as is the Wifi in the stations themselves), with security concerns being a factor. So for now it’s platforms only.

Virgin Media WiFi Underground FaceTime Test

The FaceTime video conferencing test on London Virgin Media WiFi worked pretty well.

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.

OUR VERDICT

We think it’s a pretty neat service. Obviously for free it has its charms for locals, and having even limited internet access on a Tube journey may be worth the cash (or worth switiching to a Virgin services). But the real boon will be London’s tourists, who will find a good internet connection available at every Tube stop (and let’s face it, in London they’re everywhere) an absolutely invaluable service as they navigate the city.

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