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Virgin Media to allow passers-by to freely access your WiFi router

Tue 25 Aug 2015

Virgin Media logo against man on sofa with laptop and woman on smartphone in a park

In the latest boost for Britain’s sharing economy, Virgin Media announced this month its plans to roll out a free public WiFi network this autumn, using subscribers’ personal routers and existing infrastructure to distribute the service across UK cities.

The UK media giant first told investors of the scheme in 2010, advising that the company was in “advanced negotiations” with London councils, regarding the use of street-side cabinets, and that the service would begin “in the not too distant future.” It was explained that the free WiFi service would be made available to anyone at 0.5Mbps, and to its own customers at up to 10Mbps.

Last week it was revealed that this network would also be powered, pretty much exclusively, by private WiFi routers. The company explained that public users would connect to customers’ personal routers via a completely separate connection, which it claims will not hamper performance or connectivity speed, nor compromise security.

“A user of Virgin Media Wi-Fi can’t see anything on the in-home broadband network, nor can someone using the in-home broadband network see a Virgin Media Wi-Fi user’s activity. There is also a separate content filtering policy for Virgin Media Wi-Fi which doesn’t affect your Web Safe settings in the home,” reads the Virgin Media FAQ page.

Virgin Media customers will receive a notification to download the Virgin Media WiFi app over the next few months, which will allow them to access any nearby SuperHub router as a WiFi hotspot.

For those Virgin Media subscribers unhappy with the prospect of sharing their network connection, the company is offering an opt-out setting. Enabling this option however will, quite rightly, prohibit the subscriber from accessing other free WiFi spots – share and share alike etc.

The proposals will rival BT’s current BT Wi-Fi (formerly Openzone) network, which provides a free service to BT customers, but charges non-subscribers £4 per 1-hour browsing session, and does borrow performance from its customers.

Virgin Media suggested that its project would cost “a few million pounds,” and would represent the next step in advancing “digital lifestyles” beyond 3G and 4G, narrowing the “ gap [that] is increasingly occurring between consumers’ need for data outside the home and what they can get on 3G.”

In November 2010, it was revealed that Virgin Media was looking into public WiFi services, after it had been “inspired” by a similar project in the U.S., established by cable network provider Cablevision. The American firm rolled out free WiFi to respond to the huge smartphone data demand in New York City.

“We have been inspired by what Cablevision has been able to do in New York and are actively exploring the possibility of creating a similar network here,” said former Virgin Media director Kevin Baughan. “It takes the sheer power of the cable broadband network and puts it where people need it.”

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