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Broadband ISP Virgin Media to Retire UK Public WiFi Hotspots

Saturday, Mar 11th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 7,816
virgin media engineer jacket close up

Customers of fixed broadband ISP Virgin Media (VMO2) have recently been informed that the operator’s “Out of Home” public WiFi hotspot service, which also turned their existing broadband routers into wireless hotspots for anybody to access (here), is officially set to be retired “from” 1st November 2023.

According to the operator, the change is said to have formed part of Virgin Media’s January 2023 price hike announcement (here), although a lot of people (ourselves included) seem to have missed it and indeed it wasn’t mentioned in the related press notification that we received from them at the time.

NOTE: BT has a similar FON based WiFi service, which creates a public hotspot on their customers broadband routers (you can opt out).

Nevertheless, VM’s move to retire their old Out of Home WiFi service is not wholly unexpected. The first hint came in June 2022, after they updated their related WiFi Terms to include this little nugget: “If you have joined or recontracted to Virgin Media Broadband or Virgin Mobile on or after 1st December 2022, Virgin Media’s out of home WiFi hotspots and the Virgin Media London Underground WiFi service are not available to you and will not form part of your contract for either Virgin Media broadband or Virgin Mobile.”

Virgin Media has since informed ISPreview.co.uk that use of their public WiFi Hotspots has been “declining in recent years“, with around 150k unique devices using the services per week towards the end of 2022. Maintaining a network of over 4 million hotspots is now seen as a “significant expense” and with traffic on the decline, as well as increased usage over 4G or 5G mobile services, the need for such a solution may have passed.

As for the London Underground WiFi service, Virgin Media informed us that customers’ with a mobile device and a compatible SIM card (Virgin Mobile and O2 are compatible) will still be able to access WiFi on the London Underground. From 1st April 2023, the connection should now be automatic, but if customers have used the “Connect App” in the past to get online, they’ll need to reconnect to ‘WiFi Extra‘ through their settings.

In addition to this, O2 (VMO2) are also working with BAI Communications (Boldyn Networks) and TfL to allow customers to access 4G and 5G-ready mobile connectivity across the Tube, including within the tunnels. This mobile connectivity is currently being rolled out via all mobile operators and coverage will continue to expand in the months ahead.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
12 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

    The LU wifi wasn’t a bad idea, but has been overtaken by events so being withdrawn isn’t any real loss, and if the BAI network gets completed that will give a far better service including through the tunnels (early experience the other week was very good on completed sections). The idea of using domestic grade routers in customer’s homes to create a network of wifi hotspots, that however was daft, given the limited range and modest capabilities of VM’s hubs. A load of work to create micro-hotspots of dubious performance in residential locations (typically low footfall and dwell times), and I wonder how many of the 150k devices were GENUINELY active, as opposed to latching on to a signal when passing by? The place to tout an ISP’s wares with free wifi would be on trains, at airports, hospitality locations, and there’s been some lukewarm efforts by various players, but very little I can think of where there’s free (to all), good quality wifi and clear promotional signage “Free fast wifi on the move, bought to you by Insertnamehere”. A bit of a lost opportunity perhaps? Or simply a way of losing money?

    1. Avatar photo GreenLantern22 says:

      I actually purposely disabled automatically connecting these WiFi networks as they do more damage than help. When you are in a bus or a train as soon as you latch into one of these weak hotspots your phone will most likely grind to a halt and loose connectivity. WiFi isn’t really designed for moving devices specially when those movements cause the WiFi beam to get new obstacles and change angles. Then in the Tube I found that on a busy train it was barely enough time to connect to the Access Point before the train started again and you are back to no signal. Access Points couldn’t cope with dozens of phones all trying to get DHCP IP, authenticate to the portal etc. It barely gave you enough time for a couple of messages or load 1 web page at most. WiFi mesh systems are a partial solution to some of these problems but obviously VM’s routers do not have that capability and even if they did they wouldn’t form a big mesh system you could roam into.
      So yeah this was a daft idea which was always doomed for failure and it’s good riddance from my point of view. I also agree that the use case on trains, airports and hospitality locations makes more sense as the WiFi devices will tend to be static or move a lot less.

  2. Avatar photo Bill says:

    Oh I found the virgin Wifi service quite useful when we were between houses, in an AirBnB’ed flat, very good VM signal from a neighbouring flat, pity about the limited number of sockets on their CGnat, but that could be worked around with a VPN, also no usage capacity based used limits!

  3. Avatar photo Dick Morris says:

    I tried to remove my Hub 5 as a hotspot and the Virgin Media web page would not work. I live in a block of flats in a busy part of town…

  4. Avatar photo Mike says:

    FON was useful when 4G coverage was still awful but now it’s not really necessary.

  5. Avatar photo John says:

    Does this mean the wifi no longer works in the underground if you’re not a virgin customer??

    1. Avatar photo haha says:

      Probably – BT did similar if you opted out of FON. I could never get it to work even as a VM customer!

    2. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Yes, the LU wifi hotspots no longer work. Some progress has been made on BAI’s neutral network which is mobile signal and data (not wifi) and doesn’t rely on who your mobile provider is – so the other week I was able to browse the internet, send and receive messages in the tube tunnel between Westminster and Green Park. How fast the progress will be on covering the entire LU I don’t know, and I doubt that it’ll cover all the rat warren of pedestrian tunnels at more complex interchanges, but there is progress.

    3. Avatar photo Wilson says:

      It’s evolving just backwards kind of energy

      What’s the point of having wifi that only a small percentage of the population can use

  6. Avatar photo George Rigby says:

    I joined Virgin Mobile in February and the connect app + WiFi hotspots out and about work for me just fine. Not sure why they said that in the contractual agreement.

  7. Avatar photo Jules says:

    “Cost of running the network” excuse is pure BS, the vast majority of the VM hotspots are provided by customer routers which they have to supply anyways. The ongoing marginal cost of supporting it probably almost zero.

    This is all about removing a way for customers to get by with a cheap low data plan.

  8. Avatar photo Paul Reding says:

    If you login to a virgin media hot spot do you have the same IP address as the host

Comments are closed

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