While the Virgin-built network doesn't deliver continuous connectivity, it improves traveler's wait times by giving them a few more minutes to check messages or find out what's delaying their train.
By Gwyn Topham
Wi-Fi internet access has arrived at London Underground stations, promising to keep passengers in touch with news and allow the anguish of the subterranean commuter to be instantly tweeted to the world above.
The first beneficiaries were passengers at King’s Cross and Warren Street , followed by Oxford Circus and Green Park and then 80 more of the capital’s tube stations by the end of summer. Transport for London (TfL) said it would come at no cost to farepayers or taxpayers.
Virgin Media, TfL’s partner for the service, said it was “a truly historic moment, as we connect millions of tube passengers to the wonderful world of the internet for the first time”. But like many such moments, the import seemed largely lost on those living through it, with few pausing to use the network.
The Guardian was able to place a Skype video call from the northbound Victoria line platform at King’s Cross. Porn-blocking technology will minimise online antisocial behaviour.
Lucy Butler, 25, a trainee psychologist, said: “I don’t think it’s that practical with people rushing in and out of tubes, unless you could use it throughout the entire commute. I guess I might check the directions when I’m lost.”
Stella Hadjipetri, a maths student who is 18 weeks pregnant, said she could see herself updating a baby app. “I often read that on the tube and forget to get the new day’s advice. Or I’d play Scramble.”
Ben Hirst, 36, was reading his iPhone coming back from Heathrow. “I’m very email-oriented, so that’s good. I use this for reading the Guardian, funnily enough. It gets a bit frustrating on the long journeys not being able to refresh the news.”
Access will be free for all until the end of the Olympics, allowing would-be spectators to check the progress of events while they queue for a train. From September, free access will be limited to the Virgin portal and TfL travel news.
While ainformation revolution was in the subsurface air, the Northern line’s arrivals board was blank. One woman declined the Guardian’s offer to check the time and destination of the next service on an iPad. “No, love, I’ll just wait and see what it says on the front of the train.”
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