July 16, 2007 5:24 AM PDT

London gets free Wi-Fi

A free metropolitan Wi-Fi network has been launched in London, continuing the gradual trend toward free public wireless Internet access in Europe and the United States.

The group behind Free-hotspot.com, which serves as a resource for those looking for Wi-Fi hot spots, and the Wi-Fi network infrastructure firm MeshHopper have joined forces to offer free Wi-Fi access to businesses and the public along a 13.6-mile stretch of the River Thames.

MeshHopper's fee-based Thames Wi-Fi network, which went fully commercial last year, covers the same stretch of the river, from Millbank in central London to Greenwich in southeast London.

The free network, which is being marketed at "Online-4-free.com," gives users free access if they agree to view an advertisement of 15 to 30 seconds in length every 15 minutes. If users don't want to view the ads, they are charged one of a range of fees, including $6 (2.95 pounds) per hour or $20 (9.95 pounds) a month.

The free service operates with modest download speeds of 256Kbps. The paid-for services operate at a faster 500Kbps.

Free-hotspot.com has set up 1,500 smaller networks in buildings and open spaces around Europe, but the Thames service is by far its biggest network.

"This really marks the arrival of free Wi-Fi in Greater London," said Dan Toomey, chief executive of Free-hotspot. "Millions of Londoners, as well as commuters, visitors and tourists, can now expect to find free Wi-Fi as they work or play along the Thames."

The network will be extended to 22.3 miles by August.

The Online-4-free.com service follows the launch last summer of a free citywide Wi-Fi network in Norwich, which is supported by the local council to help generate inward investment.

A free network is expected to be launched in August in Manchester's city center, in direct competition with a paid-for network built by telecommunications giant BT Group.

Paris is currently building a free citywide Wi-Fi network in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent and mobile operator SFR. This network will be offered both to citizens and visitors of the French capital.

BT has built a number of citywide Wi-Fi networks in the United Kingdom in partnership with local councils, and the City of London has backed a similar network for the financial community in partnership with mobile operator The Cloud, but all these networks charge for access.

An increasing number of U.S. towns and cities offer free or subsidized Wi-Fi access, including San Francisco; Philadelphia; Raleigh, N.C.; and Mountain View, Calif.

Antony Savvas of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
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"Free", as in "bogus".
When are people going to learn that "Free" is just a marketing gimmick? Nothing is free, especially wireless networking.

Lets see... a 15 second advertisement displayed every 15 minutes.... for a business with employees who are online during the day....

8 hour day = 32 advertisements
32 ads * 15 seconds = 8 minutes of ads

(assuming the employee didn't click an ad and waste even more time...)

At a bill rate of $100/hour (very typical for US IT work - hopefully London is not too far off)...

$13.33 / day or....

$66.65 PER 5-Day WORK WEEK

and... you get a whoopin' 256kbps transfer rate.

Well what do you know... its CHEAPER to PAY for the service at $20/month, PLUS you get faster access. (500kbps)

Once again, PAID beats FREE... in terms of COST AND PERFORMANCE.


Now... if you don't "need" the Internet for your business, but you just want it around so employees can waste time... fine. But if your business depends upon online employees billing their time, this is a very costly option. ...and we haven't yet begun to discuss the issues of performance, scalability, and signal penetration... For casual home users... it may be great. But when they suggest that it is available for businesses... heh, heh... no thank you.

"Free" is just a marketing gimmick.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
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Not meant for business
I don't see anything in the article about this being aimed at business users. I agree you would be quite mad to try and use municipal wi-fi for business purposes.

Just like the article says...
"Millions of Londoners, as well as commuters, visitors and tourists, can now expect to find free Wi-Fi as they work or play along the Thames."
Need to check email while away from home? This sounds like a good option.
Posted by OffByOneRadio (1 comment )
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How Are The Ads Served Up?
Does an ad pop-up in a small banner at the top of your browser, or does it blast through your screen regardless of what program you are using? Are these ads those annoying Flash videos with motion, or just a static graphics?
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
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For a true list of free wifi cafes in London visit this site, it's great listing local free wifi and power ready cafes in London, New York, Sydney and Melbourne:

Posted by laptopfriendlycafes (1 comment )
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Very nice posting. Thanks.
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Posted by bathmateus (8 comments )
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