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How will Virgin Media's Tube Wi-Fi fare after London 2012?

Wednesday, July 11th 2012 by Paul France
Virgin Media's Tube Wi-Fi network could face a drop in popularity post-Olympics
Only time will tell how high demand will be for Virgin's London Underground Wi-Fi service after the Olympic Games.

Virgin Media's London Underground Wi-Fi network has been operational for about five weeks now and it seems to have gotten off to a strong start.

The wireless internet network, which will be expanded to as many as 120 Tube stations by the end of the year, has come in for some criticism since it was unveiled.

London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon has been particularly vocal on the issue, raising concerns that the service may only be free to Virgin Media customers once the Olympic Games has finished. The true cost to non-Virgin Media subscribers after London 2012 is still "unclear", she argued.

Ms Pidgeon has also repeatedly accused Mayor of London Boris Johnson of refusing to answer key questions about Transport for London's (TfL's) commercial contract with the cable company. These ranged from the level of income TfL will receive under the agreement to whether any other providers offered to make full Wi-Fi access free for all passengers.

Regardless of these concerns, it appears that consumers have welcomed the introduction of the wireless internet service.

Figures published by Virgin Media earlier this month showed that one million web pages, Facebook posts, tweets and emails have so far been delivered via the service, which is being used by more than 100,000 Tube passengers.

Virgin has already rolled out the Wi-Fi network to 41 stations, with hundreds of access points installed at each of these transport hubs. Each station passed by the deployment - including Euston, Kings Cross St Pancras and Victoria - has been directly connected to the company's fibre optic backhaul infrastructure.

Appetite for the wireless internet proposition has been high so far, but the true test will come after the Games when Virgin Media starts charging non-customers for access and opens up the service to wholesale operators.

The question remains whether the Tube will be left with a high-quality public Wi-Fi platform delivering internet access to millions of people per year, or an expensive and largely unused white elephant.

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