Wi-Fi is finally on the tube.

So Wi-Fi is finally on the tube. Hurrah. Thank the sweet Lord. About bloody time! And other terms of thankfulness.

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But yes, for the Olympics (perhaps you heard?) Virgin Media provided functioning London Underground Wi-Fi and it was a real success. Virgin has already rolled out the Wi-Fi network to 81 stations with plans to expand to over 120 stations by the end of the year and enthusiasm has been high so far.  

Rory Cellan-Jones first reported on Virgin Media’s plans on a London Underground Wi-Fi network on the 31st May this year.  As the BBC’s premier Technology Correspondent and self-confessed lover of all things online, he was understandably excited at the prospect of being able to Tweet on the escalators of the then un-disclosed Tube stations and watch The Apprentice on his iPad whilst waiting for his train.  This in turn got us excited!  So we thought we’d wait and see what all the fuss was about.  And now, six weeks later, here we are with a full round up:

Firstly – we love Wi-Fi on the tube.  Like seriously love it!  I can Whatsapp my friends and let them know I’m running late (again), I can check emails, send a Tweet, stalk an old school friend on Facebook who I haven’t spoken to in years (don’t judge, we all do it). 

It’s also ridiculously easy to set up.  On my iPhone I just clicked to join the Virgin Media Wi-Fi network, opened up my browser, entered my email address and was immediately able to access free, and remarkably fast Wi-Fi.  And from the consensus in the office and outside, it’s seems to be a pretty unanimous response. 

In fact, the only criticism I’ve seen of the whole scheme is what will happen post summer 2012 as Virgin Media are being particularly cagey about how they will continue to provide the Wi-Fi and costings attached.  They’ve already confirmed that the service will remain free for existing Virgin Mobile customers, but those on other mobile networks will have to pay on a pay-as-you-go basis.  Annoyingly, the cost is still “unclear”.  O2 also rolled out an identical scheme to Virgin Media’s throughout the Olympics, but surprise, surprise, they are also keeping schtum about what will happen now the Games after the games. 

I’ll be interested to watch this one play-out – Virgin has revealed they’re actively looking for a media platform partner, and there have already been question asked about how much TFL will profit from the costings of Wi-Fi come autumn time.  However, one thing I’m certain of, Wi-Fi on the underground needs to stay.  It is after all 2012, and over a quarter of adults and nearly half of all teens now own a smartphone.  We live in a mobile, global world and the demand is there.  Figures published by Virgin Media in July, shortly before the Olympics started, 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.  Whilst official stats have yet to be released now the Olympics have ended, you can bet they will also be high.  And with the Paralympics looking to sell out, I’m confident we will again see positive responses from Wi-Fi on the Underground. 

So in conclusion, long may Wi-Fi underground live, but let’s all hope that when it comes to deciding just how much it’s going to cost us, the powers that be are feeling particularly lenient – yes, they’ve got to be business-like about this and make a profit but at the same time, surely commuters throughout London shouldn’t be forced to pay extortionate prices just to access emails and Twitter.  And after all, Virgin Media what’s more important: your profit margin or me being able to access the Daily Mail online whilst I wait for my tube?!

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