You can find WiFi networks in some unexpected places…

Public WiFi networks aren’t just found in upmarket hotels any longer, and they’re more widespread than you might realise

Monday, 14 March, 2022

When you’re out and about, you probably rely heavily on mobile internet data from your chosen network’s 4G or 5G network.

It’s common to connect to WiFi while staying at a hotel, or sipping an Americano in a café, but people rarely think to search for freely available networks anywhere else.

As a result, the British public is missing out on a great deal of free connectivity.

Public WiFi networks have been created in numerous locations around the UK, funded by an unlikely coalition of councils, retailers, service providers and transport companies.

Some are freemium services and many are disappointingly slow, but they all provide an alternative to relying on your monthly mobile data allowance…

On the ground

WiFi is ubiquitous on public transport, with companies like Stagecoach, Arriva and First offering free public WiFi networks to their passengers.

One exception to this is London, where Transport for London concluded the city’s excellent 4G and 5G networks rendered the provision of customer WiFi unnecessary.

Having arrived in a built-up area, businesses in thick-walled basements or older stone buildings often offer free WiFi because mobile signals struggle to permeate their walls.

Public buildings like hospitals and GP practices are also routinely equipped with WiFi, as part of the NHS WiFi platform which serves 8,000 patient centres in England alone.

You don’t even need to be in (or near) a building to benefit from the presence of public WiFi networks.

Up and down the country, local councils have created open (and open-air) WiFi networks in the heart of their towns and cities.

For instance, Carlisle City Council employed BT to install hotspots around its urban core, supporting high-speed connections on any portable device.

It may seem incongruous to be using WiFi while exploring a 12th century cathedral or the Tullie House Museum, but internet connectivity extends throughout Carlisle’s Historic Quarter and beyond.

Below ground

When delegates arrived in Glasgow earlier this month for the Cop26 conference, they might have been surprised to find free WiFi throughout the city’s Subway network.

Despite sporting some rattly and rather dated rolling stock, this was the first UK transport system to offer WiFi networks, way back in 2010.

Today, there’s also a newly-installed Emergency Services Network extending throughout the Clockwork Orange’s 15 stations, as well as its inner and outer tunnels.

London’s buses may lack WiFi but the Tube has it, with Virgin Media providing internet access at 260 Underground stations, 79 Overground stations and Victoria Coach Station.

Above ground

The aviation industry has had a tough couple of years, but air passengers still have access to on-board WiFi during most domestic and international flights.

As an example, British Airways offers WiFi once the plane’s altitude is above 10,000 feet (roughly ten minutes after take-off and before landing), through a proprietary paywalled gateway.

Remarkably, some of the world’s biggest mountains have WiFi at base camp, including Everest and Fuji, helping tourists stay safe and keep in touch with Sherpas and rescue teams.

And if that’s not extraordinary enough, WiFi has even reached the moon.

In 2014, NASA pointed four telescopes at a receiver satellite orbiting the moon, creating temporary WiFi.

Someone on Earth could download lunar data at 622Mbps, faster than any domestic broadband connections in the UK at the time.

It’s since been announced that Nokia will build a mobile phone network on the moon by 2030 to support sustainable space missions – a WiFi network that’ll literally be out of this world.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!