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Mayor of London Ponders Single FREE Open Access WiFi Network

Wednesday, Dec 27th, 2023 (1:44 pm) - Score 3,880
Wi-Fi icon, sign. Vector illustration. Flat design. Connect green sign. Blue background.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a new consultation to investigate the possibility of launching a free city-wide public WiFi broadband network that would be open-access for everybody to use. The suggestion being that users wouldn’t need to go through the usual sign-up / login processes and could simply connect.

The new service could, it’s hoped, benefit not only visitors navigating the city and regular Londoners, but also aid business transactions and help the increasing number of remote workers making the most of flexible working conditions.

The project, if approved, would form part of the Mayor’s Digital Access for All mission. The mayor has already allocated £20,000 to create a plan for City Hall and his business growth and destination agency London & Partners, to improve internet connectivity for visitors and Londoners. This involves consulting with key stakeholders such as the Wireless Broadband Alliance, Wi-Fi and mobile network operators, London’s key borough authorities and international cities with experience in delivering open access internet.

Some of the possible technology solutions currently being investigated for this include an OpenRoaming network, which could allow users to seamlessly connect to Wi-Fi networks that have adopted the technology without the need for passwords or inputting additional credentials all the time (though this does still require a limited sign-up process, even if only occurring once).

OpenRoaming has already been trialled over smaller areas in London, including the London Stadium and Canary Wharf. For example, broadband ISP Virgin Media and Cisco joined forces during 2020 to setup the first European commercial deployment of OpenRoaming technology for residents on the Canary Wharf estate (here).

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

“Our capital is roaring back from the pandemic, with tourists from around the world joining Londoners in enjoying all of the fantastic attractions on offer.

I want every Londoner and visitor to have the very best experience possible and in our connected world that means having access to fast, reliable, seamless internet access. This consultation will be the first step towards delivering better digital services for all, building a better and more prosperous city for everyone.”

The consultation, carried out by telecoms and digital infrastructure specialists, is expected to report its recommendations early in the new year.

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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
44 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Jim says:

    Free access to the Internet to report being a victim of crime in London. I’m all for it. That’s if your phone wasn’t stolen too.

  2. Avatar photo Kris Lord says:

    In a perfect world I’d be all for this.

    But local authorities are severely underfunded and so there must be a better use of whatever this will cost.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      This is standard “bread and circuses” politics, and there’s probably no real intention to deliver anything.

      It would be at least a decade away (so over the political horizon) even if something became of it, Khan then says “look what I gave you plebs, vote for me!”, even though any reality for universal London wide useable wifi is very remote indeed. In the vastly more likely scenario that it gets blocked by government on competition or other grounds, then Khan says “Look what I promised you, and the evil Tories blocked it, vote for me not them”. The Labour party are firmly convinced we’ll see a May 2024 election, so Khan has probably left this one too late for the gesture politics, let’s see if he finds the money to resurrect the idea under a Labour government.

      Given the cesspit of cynicism and opportunism that is British politics, I think Khan expects it to be blocked and the announcement is purely to try and generate that evil Tories narrative. If Khan wanted to make Londoner’s lives better, there’s plenty of far better ways of spending money.

  3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    I am shocked that something like this is not already in London, but then I suppose it is a large city and trying to get it city wide would not be easy.
    I hope they do a better job than what ours is in this tiny little city, which I don’t use.

  4. Avatar photo The witcher says:

    There’s plenty of free access in shops and restaurants. Don’t need to spend tax payer money with private enterprises for even more open access

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      The one problem with that is you have to sign in to a new one every time you go into a shop or restaurant, but then unless the public Wi-fi is good, I doubt it will expand to inside buildings.

      Most people have a fair bit of data these days, so they will use their own mobile data. Where I go for a coffee, they have their own Wi-fi, I do use that as my mobile signal is a bit naff there. I do make sure I have the VPN switch on.

  5. Avatar photo Shaukat says:

    Makes you think what kind of bandwidth would be required for such a venture..

  6. Avatar photo Billy says:

    Come on Shere Khan are you really looking to waste even more money with your latest hair brained idea.

  7. Avatar photo Meadmodj says:

    When WIFI first arrived we had greater co-operation between WIFI providers allowing log-in to each others networks. What has changed is that the main players both fixed and mobile would not now want you to undermine their products and remove any market differentiation. In addition many public WIFI login processes are purposely cumbersome to obtain details for data harvesting and advertising.

    So the reality is that it would likely be restricted in speed and functionality whilst exposing our data even more widely.

    What we need is more co-operation between providers to provide a universal emergency coverage whether WIFI or mobile, indoors or out.

  8. Avatar photo Pri says:

    I’d prefer he spent the money on funding FTTP installations for community centres and underserved areas of London. They could also open a social tariff fund to partially pay for low-cost broadband.

    Offering free ubiquitous WiFi to the whole of London will only create a very slow network, I’d expect it to end up just a few megabits at best with how many would use it making it kinda useless.

  9. Avatar photo John says:

    Communist Khan stealing from people who go to places in order to buy more votes. He won’t stop with ULEZ, road taxes are next on the line

    And with a labour govt he will want to control the rents to destroy housing for good. Rent control has failed every time it has been tried but he will still try it and promote panqueer awareness on his wall the day he rolls it out …

    1. Avatar photo Ben says:

      Apart from the fact that road tax was abolished over 80 years ago, the mayor doesn’t control VED which was it’s successor. That’s set by central government. Any form of rent control would also be set by central government – not the mayor.

      As for buying votes? The Conservative candidate is not even liked by their own party. To the point where there is an internal inquiry within the party to understand how she got selected. Most of the electorate don’t even know who she is or what she stands for!

    2. Avatar photo John says:

      Maybe you can argue they fielded a weak candidate on purpose with weak policies (she’s actually not pledging to scrap ULEZ) and they don’t even get her account verified to reach more people

      It is an irrelevant argument: labour or conservative, red or blue, does not matter which one, any vote for them is a vote for the uniparty.

      Maybe it should be time to scrap the mayor position entirely (also scrap the mayor of Hackney). No one individual should have this much power to harm people’s lives

    3. Avatar photo Ben says:

      Well we used to have a proportional representation system for electing the mayor. It wasn’t just a case of Labour vs Tory, it also took into account other views. Of course the Tories didn’t like that, so have imposed the old first-past-the-post system from next year.

      If we didn’t have a mayor, control would revert to central government. So we really would be in a situation where one person has power over everything. Delegating powers regarding London to the mayor and the London Assembly means we have a elected body looking out for London. You may not like the decisions, but tough decisions aren’t always popular.

    4. Avatar photo Patrick says:

      We are far better off without these “decisions”. Literally no one voted to pay tax just to drive their cars yet little dictator has done it and lied to your face with the absolutely ridiculous claim that paying him tax makes the weather better

      His trips to NYC and LA have made him far more radical. Wait until he turns London into San Francisco

    5. Avatar photo Ben says:

      You obviously don’t understand the ULEZ then. It’s not about ‘the weather’ – by which you mean climate change. It’s about reducing pollution at ground level, where people actually have to breath it in.

    6. Avatar photo Gary says:

      They will keep rolling out more and more taxes because clowns will believe that paying taxes is good and does anything else other than giving more money to corrupt politicians.

      But hey if Sadiqs study that HE FUNDED says it makes everything better then surely it must be true!! The Guardian and the BBC agree amirite

  10. Avatar photo NE555 says:

    A free wifi network is great in theory. In practice, being free, the service would be so terrible and patchy as to be useless.

    Better off extending 4G/5G coverage, and visitors can buy a SIM card.

    Or can SK point to any example of a city anywhere else in the world which has a similar service? And it’s not rubbish?

    1. Avatar photo MilesT says:

      Tragedy of the commons

    2. Avatar photo ADNOC Driller says:

      Abu Dhabi city has free public wifi outdoors and its pretty good.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      I was thinking of there and remember there being WiFi everywhere I needed the Al Hosn app but wasn’t sure how ubiquitous it was.

      It was indeed pretty good!

  11. Avatar photo XGS says:

    Good idea. Permits savings elsewhere and may improve productivity. Cost can be minimal if using existing access points and software to roam between them. Ideally all settlements would have something similar.

    1. Avatar photo What? says:

      Who you kidding, if it had been suggested by BJ would you still be agreeing?

    2. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Given I voted for him over Ken Livingstone way back when yes, I would.

      Some of us are grown up enough not to care about the rosette if we think the policy is good.

  12. Avatar photo Patrick says:

    Great idea let’s bankrupt Community Fibre guys. Let’s use all the money we took from ULEZ plus increased train fares

  13. Avatar photo Phil says:

    If London isn’t covered by fairly decent mobile strength by now after all these years, then how on earth could they cover the area for “free” with Wi-Fi if the big mobile operators can’t do it?

    I wonder how many of his friends or family will have shares in the new company that appears and just happens to win the contract to install it using tax payers money?

    Then of course being OPEN to connect to is not the same as being open to free speech and you can bet all websites against ULEZ and his other mad ideas will be censored.

    We had a big deal made of free Wi-Fi in our town, I don’t know of anyone that has ever connected to it!

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      I’m sure there will be filtering. It won’t be of things like ULEZ-related content. That’d be stupid on many levels, not least politically.

    2. Avatar photo Phil says:

      @XGS ULEZ itself is stupid on many levels including politically but he went ahead with that! One wonders if the city wide open Wi-Fi is just an excuse to get their own Wi-Fi system they can use to connect more and more cameras to.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Connectivity for cameras isn’t an issue in London. Zero benefit to a public network as far as that goes.

  14. Avatar photo The Doggy in the Window says:

    Free WiFi makes sense in busy areas like Oxford Street, Camden Market, Leicester Square etc……but the whole of London?

    That is going to be one expensive bit of infrastructure to build and maintain.

    The idea of Openroam (or whatever the exact phrasing is) is great, encourage adoption of that amongst the private enterprises as opposed to using public monday to build a WiFi network for 8 million people and more.

    Data demands are increasing year on year, you would need 10s of thousands of access points to fulfil blanket coverage, assuming that is the intent. Then lets factor the potential ramifications regarding interference to other WiFi networks….before we even get to the security risks. It would also have to be a mesh network to ensure contiguous coverage with no fall off which is even more expensive.

    Personally I don’t think there is a need, better to push and develop Openroam and get the businesses to use it making it simpler for the EU.

    1. Avatar photo Jonny says:

      It’s a consultation, so it could very well end up taking the form that you have described – a scheme to get existing businesses offering public Wi-Fi to switch to providing the London-wide SSID in exchange for transferring legal liability for anything that happens on the public network to whoever the eventual operator of the programme ends up being.

      I don’t think any group could produce a report making a case for every public area of Greater London to be in range of a new Wi-Fi network, especially when the years of big brands throwing sponsorship money at everything just to get their name on it are long gone.

    2. Avatar photo Jonny says:

      In fact the actual press release on this seems entirely geared around solving registration and roaming pain points with a large emphasis on improving it for visitors to the city who might otherwise be racking up data roaming charges

      https://www.london.gov.uk/mayor-investigate-single-free-open-access-wi-fi-network-across-london

      I would be surprised if it had anything to do with installing access points other than in the busiest open spaces.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Please don’t bring facts into it and interrupt the anti-Khan rants from folks who almost certainly don’t live in London, Jonny. Doubt many ever have.

  15. Avatar photo Wilf says:

    People have been cryong out for this for 15 years. Funny that with an election arpund the corner the idea finally comes to the fore. Dont be dupped by this tin can charlie. His only going to use it to destroy Londoners lifes in the long run.

  16. Avatar photo John says:

    Great idea. At some time in the future it will be free around the country.

  17. Avatar photo Just a thought says:

    Can’t see ISPs or mobile operators being impressed. If you can get free WiFi 24/7 why take out a home/business BB connection or pay for a large data bundle?

    Wonder how long it is before an App with LondonWiFi SSID is set up on many mobiles as a hot-spot, and then start harvesting anything that connects to them?

  18. Avatar photo William Wilkinson says:

    I’m sure the street gangs would love to have free wifi. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as free stuff. It’s just more anti-business policies from Mr Khan. He’s turning London into a sewer, I could cry.

  19. Avatar photo Kevin says:

    Sounds like a great idea, as long as it doesn’t impact fixed home broadband.

    1-2Mb, login with expiry?

    I remember being in the USA and having roaming with Three, 512Kb to 2Mb was tight, but enough to stay in touch, use maps, trip advisor etc.

  20. Avatar photo Gavin says:

    Wouldn’t there be some security concerns about this?

    Besides the usual fact that you’d be on the same network as other people, so normal default defences might need changing, what about piracy or illegal online activity?

  21. Avatar photo Richard says:

    Those who are anti this, why are you against it? Unless you have shares in service providers then surely it’s good. Isn’t Internet now a necessity.

    1. Avatar photo Sam says:

      Simple: It is a complete waste of taxpayer money. If they even consider trying to put hardworking people out of a job with this, it means they have stolen too much money and should just cut taxes instead

      Even if you support government doing things the government has no business in doing and ignoring things it SHOULD be doing, London has pretty much perfect mobile coverage and also free wifi at almost every busy street

  22. Avatar photo Gavin says:

    I wonder if there will be a legal change, as all the ISP and mobile networks will not be happy losing income.

    It might be better to charge for the WiFi network and allow people to connect as part of there home broadband or mobile package.

    If people are struggling give away free access with a refusal from the Job center of a teacher for disadvantaged individuals.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      The major driver is linking various already existing access points. The end result isn’t going to be a solution for regular home usage.

      It’ll be too slow, too limited or too filtered. VPNs could certainly be used to work around the filtering but by the time you’re at the stage of paying for VPN, reconnecting regularly to avoid session limits and it’s too slow to do everything you want you have to ask what the point is.

      Abu Dhabi’s WiFi was perfectly fine for what it was but you aren’t going to be streaming HD on it routinely.

  23. Avatar photo Jimb says:

    I turn my WiFi off when going out. Even if you don’t connect shop based wifi will track your position to the meter in a stall and sell that data to Google and other companies. Within minutes of browsing the sofa sections of some high end furniture shops on Tottenham Court Road. Took a coffee break and browsed my phone only to be bombarded by ads for sofas. Even though I didn’t connect to any store’s network the constant scanning of the phone for networks was used to track me.

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