Going Underground: The speed of Wi-Fi on London's tube

Just how fast is public wireless on the London Underground? Broadbandchoices.co.uk investigates...

This month, Virgin Media made public Wi-Fi available at a number of London Underground stations. That got the team at Broadbandchoices.co.uk wondering: how fast is it? As speedy as the Metropolitan line, or as disappointing as a signal failure on the Circle line?

We thought it would be interesting to find out, so we did some tests.

What we did

Currently, Wi-Fi is available at six London Underground stations: Euston, Warren Street, Victoria, Green Park, Oxford Circus and King's Cross. We tested the download and upload speeds at each of the stations, and to make sure we tested it during a heavy load we did so during rush hour.

To determine the average speed of each station, we used two speed checkers: Speedtest.net, and uSwitch's tool. The speed checkers were accessed on an iPhone and we tested multiple times on both sites, combining the averages to determine the speed for each station.

What we found was enlightening.

On the download

The fastest station for downloads was Euston, where we recorded average speeds of 14.59Mb. That's pretty nippy, we think you'll agree. Most of the other platforms hovered around speeds of 13Mb and 14Mb:

The only station to let the side down was King's Cross. Our tests at that site logged speeds that were significantly slower than at other stations - the average download speed was just 5.98Mb. Perhaps that's a sign of teething troubles, or maybe it's a reminder that not all stations are equal. Suffice to say, if we wanted to find a quiet spot to, for example, watch a video on YouTube, we'd be better off popping down the road to Euston.

Underground station Average download speed
Euston 14.59Mb
Warren Street 14.53Mb
Victoria 14.41Mb
Green Park 13.56Mb
Oxford Circus 13.19Mb
Kings Cross 5.98Mb
Average 12.71

Despite the disappointing King's Cross results, the average download speed across all platforms was 12.71Mb and, interestingly, that's quite a way above the average broadband speed on the surface.

Mind the gap!

The UK's average home broadband speed is 7.6Mb - that's according to the telecoms regulator Ofcom, which knows a lot about these things. The average speed in London is slightly better at 8.8Mb, but that's still considerably less than what's available on the Underground. It seems for speeds to go up, you have to head down.

Of course, broadband speeds will be affected by the number of people using a network at the same time. Although we tested speeds during rush hour, there are plenty of people who have yet to become aware of Wi-Fi availability (not to mention the fact that it's currently free). And who knows what the influx of sports-mad tourists in town for the Olympics will do to speeds?

Regardless, the download speed of Virgin Media's underground Wi-Fi network is good. Forget simply checking your emails - that's fast enough to download the latest apps for your phone, chat with your loved ones via instant message, or catch up on last night's TV on BBC iPlayer.

Upload and at 'em

We also tested upload speeds at each of the stations. Uploading refers to sending data from your device over the web (as opposed to downloading, which refers to receiving data). The higher the upload speed, the faster you can post a photo or video on Facebook, or the better online telephony like Skype will be.

The upload speeds at each of the stations were impressive - once again, King's Cross was noticeably lower than the other stations, but the speeds still averaged out at a speedy 11.87Mb. That's good news if you're an avid social media updater.

Underground station Average upload speed
Euston 10.90Mb
Warren Street 12.10Mb
Victoria 13.53Mb
Green Park 13.17Mb
Oxford Circus 12.11Mb
Kings Cross 9.40Mb
Average 11.87


Decent speeds sound well and good, but what are the practical applications? If you think about it, the London Underground Wi-Fi network has the potential to revolutionise the tube experience. Waiting for trains becomes less of a chore if you can check the status of your train right there on the platform, rather than waiting for announcements. And it could even help tourists get to grips with the complexities of the system.

It could also make things a little less stressful - the ability to grumble about your journey on Facebook, or directly to a friend or partner on the other side of the city would be quite cathartic. And having your face smushed up against a glass partition while you play sardines on a Northern line train could be much less depressing if you know you can grab a few minutes of Mock the Week as you come into a station.

Alternatively, you could make it more depressing with a few minutes of EastEnders. It's a double-edged sword.

Journey's end

That's all speculation, of course. The London Underground Wi-Fi network is still new and fresh, and we don't yet know how tube travellers will take to it. Perhaps it will be used by a few to kill time on platforms between trains. Maybe like on the surface, we'll have increased numbers of sharp-suited business types bumping into things because they're more focused on email on their BlackBerrys than where they're going.

What we do know is that Virgin Media's Wi-Fi network works - it delivers good speeds, anyone that uses it should get a decent experience and, if you want the best experience, make sure you're travelling via Euston.

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