Virgin Media Mulls London Wi-Fi Plans

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Virgin Media is set to roll out a Wi-Fi network in London to take on the likes of BT with its Openzone hotspots

Virgin Media is actively considering rolling out a free Wi-Fi ‘metro’ network for Londoners. The company’s chief has discussed plans in the media, and the company has confirmed to eWEEK Europe that the company is working on the idea,

Virgin Media is in “advanced conversations” with boroughs and councils in the capital, CEO Neil Berkett, told Broadband TV News: “There’s very few things I take a punt on as a business person. It’s a few million pounds, but I think it is a real opportunity if you think about the gap that is occurring between what the consumer needs outside the home and what they can get on 3G,” he is reported to have said.

Actively Exploring

A Virgin Media spokesperson more-or-less confirmed the story to eWEEK Europe UK, with the following, somewhat-less-juicy, statement: “We are actively exploring ways of using our existing fibre optic broadband network to develop a Wi-Fi solution for London.”

It seems that Virgin Media’s plan is to provide a limited Wi-Fi service for all Londoners, reportedly with speeds of half a megabit per second. Meanwhile it is thought that Virgin Media customers would get much faster access speeds of up to 10Mbps.

At this time it is not clear how long it would take Virgin Media to build and support the service. One option under consideration is reportedly that of Virgin Media wholesaling the service when it is built, i.e offering the Wi-Fi access to others.

This is because the carrier reportedly believes its network is under-utilised during the day when most people are out at work. Therefore this ‘spare’ capacity could then be used to provide an internet connection for people when they are outside their homes.

Previous Plans

If Virgin Media does make a move to build a Wi-Fi network in London, it will allow it to compete more fully with than of rival BT, which offers Openzone Wi-Fi hotspots. BT customers can also utilise other BT customer’s Wi-Fi networks using the BT FON option.

The idea of installing a city wide Wi-Fi network in London is not a new one. In April Transport for London (TfL) announced that it had shelved plans to roll out Wi-Fi access to 120 London Underground stations in time for the Olympic Games next year.

In September last year Mayor Boris Johnson promised to “bash heads together” to ensure wireless access would be available by 2012.

Meanwhile research from network testing company Epitiro in March this year found that the speed of home broadband connections is significantly lower over Wi-Fi than over wired connections, with many consumers finding the experience of streaming videos and playing online games unsatisfactory over Wi-Fi.

Consumers lose an average of 30 percent of download speed when using Wi-Fi connections in the home compared to fixed broadband, the research found. Latency also increased by an average of 10 to 20 percent, which can make using VoIP services such as Skype and watching video-on-demand extremely frustrating.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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