Virgin wants to give free public wi-fi to London

Richard Branson wants to give BT’s Openzone a run for its money by covering London with a free public wi-fi network.

If it all works, Virgin Media’s network would be free to anyone at 0.5Mbps, and to subscribers at speeds up to 10Mbps.

Wi-fi routers would be installed in the company’s street-side cabinets which would plug it into Virgin’s cable network .

Neil Berkett, CEO of Virgin Media told the Daily Mail the company was in advanced negotiations with London councils to gain planning permission for the project.

The business model will be different from BT’s Openzone network which is only free to BT broadband customers. It costs £5.99 for 90 minutes browsing to non-customers.

Berkett said that the plans are ‘a punt’ that will cost his company ‘a few million pounds’. The result will be to keep BT honest.

It could also take pressure off 3G mobile networks which are under pressure in London.

Berkett said that Virgin Media might wholesale the faster level of access to mobile networks, whose customers are increasingly noticing the discrepancy between what they can get at home and what they can get on 3G.