Virgin SIM-only uses strangers' routers to get public WiFi 3

Virgin SIM Only now gets WiFi through strangers’ routers

Virgin Media are rolling out a new service that opens up customers’ Super Hub broadband routers to dramatically improve local WiFi internet connections.

This new WiFi hotspot service sits in direct competition with BT’s long-running ‘WiFi-with-Fon’ service, which launched almost 10 years ago.

If you go out in any public place you’ll likely have seen BT’s WiFi-with-Fon on your phone’s WiFI list. Virgin SIM-only uses strangers' routers to get public WiFi 2

Is public WiFi using my router safe?

Yes. It works by opening up a part of the router’s WiFi signal so that the public can connect to it, while guaranteeing that the home network remains secure.

Starting in April 2017, Virgin opted in around 100,000 of their customers to the plan by default.

Some reported getting emails telling them of the change – but it sparked home security fears after the company said their routers were now broadcasting a public WiFi signal.

The new network is free to all existing Virgin Media customers, but you’ll need to download the Virgin Media WiFi app for iOS and Android devices.

Virgin SIM-only now gets WiFi through strangers' routers

Virgin promise that WiFi users won’t be able to see anything on your home broadband network, even if they are standing right outside your house.

If you’re a Virgin customer and you don’t like the thought of your router being used as a public WiFi hotspot, you can opt out calling the customer helpline on 0345 454 1111 , or by logging in to your My Virgin Media homepage.

Does it slow down my broadband?

A large issue for BT’s WiFi-with-Fon is that because some of the customer’s broadband is being allocated to the public hotspot, those with poor or overcrowded connections can see a significant drop in internet speed.

Many WiFi-with-Fon hotspots are slower than 4G and even 3G mobile internet.

This is without taking into account the relatively poor signal range of BT’s home routers.

This is where Virgin are doing things differently.

Instead of sharing the home user’s broadband, additional bandwidth is allocated to the Super Hub router to be used for the public hotspot.

This means better internet for both the home and mobile user as both will have their own dedicated connection.

Virgin’s service has the added benefit of being completely free to all of its mobile and broadband customers, letting its broadband-only customers enjoy the benefit of these hotspots even if they’re with a different mobile network.

Non-Virgin customers can connect for a £4 charge.

Who else does free WiFi hotpots?

BT’s WiFi-with-Fon is only available for free to BT broadband customers but is accessible by anyone for an the price of an access pass. These passes start at £5 per hour – a pretty outrageous price to pay for WiFi.

EE and Vodafone both offer packages that include BT WiFi hotspots, but neither allow access to WiFi-with-Fon.

Instead customers can connect to BT’s Openzone hotspots – dedicated hotspots located in places like the London underground and major airports.

Virgin WiFi is currently available in areas of London, Cambridge, West Sussex and Scotland. But because it’s tied to the availability of Virgin’s cable broadband, nationwide coverage is still a long way off.

Customers who frequently use WiFi hotspots will use significantly less data on their mobile contracts, so an extensive hotspot network could mean many of Virgin’s customers end up spending a lot less money on data.


Samuel Newman is a consumer journalist and blogger based in Sheffield.
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