Free WiFi: The mysterious affair on the London Tube

Posted on by Mike Evans

This morning I descended into the deep depths of London's Piccadilly Line, settled into my seat and powered up the iPhone to continue reading the latest blockbuster. Normal day.

Suddenly I noticed a full set of wifi bars at the top of the screen. This couldn't be, I thought, as I swiftly called up Settings for a sitrep. Sure enough, I was connected to "Free Public WiFi" with a strong signal. 

For all of 30 seconds I was delighted until I realised that this munificent signal carried no internet connection.

Throughout the journey under central London the signal rose and fell, sometimes one bar, sometimes four. And still no internet. 

What gives? I honestly don't know and a trawl of the net brought no information. Some underground railways in the world do offer access to 3G cellular networks, but free public wifi? And I've heard no rumours from London.

This remains a complete mystery. Could it be some experiment on the tube system? Because of the depth underground - the Piccadilly line is one of the deepest - there is no chance of a stray signal from above (except from far above, in which case we could consider divine intervention). 

No, despite all my instincts against the verdict, this must be some fault with the iPhone. Anyone have any suggestions?

UPDATE: Our correspondent in Washington DC, who is a noted train buff, suggests that this mysterious signal could be testing for part of what London Mayor Boris Johnson has termed city-wide wifi before the 2012 Olympic Games. However, we can find no specific references to wifi on the Underground and any inside information would be welcome.

Blog posted here.

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