Who is winning London 2012's Wi-Fi Olympic race?
19th Jul 2012 | 13:00
Top ISPs compete to set up most hotspots
There's a different competition among ISPs in the run-up to the Olympic Games. They want to be the top name to show up on your Wi-Fi networks list.
Part of accommodating the million-odd people visiting London during the Olympics involves internet access. Because let's face it, who doesn't want to tweet about what they are seeing at the Opening ceremony? Who doesn't want to stream videos while they wait for results to be announced, or events to start?
More importantly, who doesn't want to kill some time while they're waiting for their bus or train to take them across venues in the host city?
"This August will mark the tenth anniversary of Wi-Fi being available to UK users," says Thomas Wehmeier, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.
He adds that UK, especially London, has become one of the most advanced markets in the world in terms of Wi-Fi connectivity. "[The number of hotspots] has become a focal point due to the Olympics and due to the level of innovation by UK broadband providers."
BT leads the lot of wireless internet providers, with 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots about to be set up within London.
BT Wi-Fi internet access comes to shops, cafés, high street retailers, bars and restaurants. Not to mention, Starbucks coffeehouses, Hilton hotels and more recently, Heineken pubs. The company has also confirmed it will be the sole provider of public Wi-Fi in the Olympic Park.
They will cover nearly 1,000 access points across nine Olympic venues including the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre and Velodrome, and all the public areas of the Olympic Park in east London.
Access is free for BT broadband customers and included in contracts for millions of Android, iOS and other smartphone devices through BT agreements with UK and international network providers.
Virgin broadband are probably the next providers to show up on anyone's Wi-Fi list, especially after plans of setting up hotspots on 120 underground train stations in London were announced last week.
A spokesperson said at least 80 stations will be equipped with free Wi-Fi in time for the start of the Olympic Games.
When at any one of the 41 stations equipped with Wi-Fi, Virgin appears on the list of available networks. After registering using your email address, you're free to surf the web (during the games at least).
Never out of range
Wehmeier says London has reached a stage where its residents are never out of Wi-Fi range. Straight from waking up at home to waiting at the station and everywhere in between including your workplace, the restaurant or café for lunch, and the supermarket you visit on your way back.
Free Wi-Fi is bound to benefit short-term visitors and tourists as well as businesses, Wehmeier says.
"Free Wi-Fi will attract more people into your premises, keep them longer, spend more money on your core business and make them come back more."
So far, Wi-Fi on tube stations has been quite a success, with over 100,000 passengers logging on in the first 4 weeks, according to Virgin Media.
After the summer, Virgin Media will begin charging for Wi-Fi connectivity, though it will remain free to use for all existing Virgin customers.
There are a few restrictions, though. Virgin Media says it has installed filters and heavy firewalls that prevent logging onto websites with adult content, and file sharing websites such as Pirate Bay, which are already blocked by UK ISPs.
Wehmeier feels the Wi-Fi networks built by O2 and BT have great inbuilt security. "There's always a risk that opportunists will be looking to exploit [free Wi-Fi]. That being said, if smartphone and tablet users take the precautions they would otherwise, there's no great risk."
Sky and the Cloud... Wi-Fi app
Sky Broadband entered the hotspot race only recently, by allowing customers to access wireless hotspots across UK.
After buying the Cloud Wi-Fi in February last year, Sky launched wireless hotspots from The Cloud for PC, Mac, iOS and Android in April, allowing Sky Broadband customers to sign in and browse for free.
From the 10,000 hotspots available across UK, currently about 1,250 London venues offer The Cloud Wi-Fi.
Since Virgin has claimed Underground tube stations, The Cloud will be setting up hotspots on the Overground suburban stations, offering an hour's worth of free browsing.
Their plans for the Games include setting up hotspots in the Olympic borough of Stratford, at Westfield shopping centre.
The Cloud is also supplying content portal in Westfield giving customers instant access, via The Cloud landing page, to the latest Sky News and Sky Sports news, without them even having to login.
Setting the main competitors aside, there's also independent Wi-Fi provider Spectrum, which covers hotels (Premier Inn and Travelodge) and airports.
So this is more likely to be helpful when you have just arrived or about to leave London. If you are hopping around central London, though, chances are you will step under one of its public street Wi-Fi hotspots.
ISPs have been putting in "years of planning" for "probably the biggest infrastructure undertaking for the arrival of visitors for the games" according to Wehmeier.
He adds: "Network providers have been studying other major sporting events, to get a sense of great examples and case studies of customer behaviour. I think they are ready. But they won't know for sure until it commences."
Considering these options and tie-ins, anyone's stay during the Olympics is unlikely to be sans Wi-Fi internet. From the airport to the Olympic Park, and every restaurant in between – even the streets – will have routers looking to hook your portable device in.