You can imagine my annoyance when I discovered, late one evening in July, that Vodafone had scrapped its support for free Wi-Fi on the London Underground.
I stood on a Northern Line platform, unable to message my friend on WhatsApp to say I was running late, unable to look at alternative routes on CityMapper, and unable to understand why I couldn't find Vodafone on the list of network providers supported on the TfL Wi-Fi page.
Surely this was a glitch? Surely Vodafone hadn't abandoned its London customers just as the lockdown eased and life edged back to normal? I was disappointed to find that it had.
I reached out to Vodafone for comment but was directed simply to Vodafone's support page, which says: "We are no longer continuing our WiFi services on the London Underground". Helpful.
Vodafone isn't the only network that doesn't allow Wi-Fi on the Underground, of course. Neither do Sky Mobile, Smarty, or iD Mobile. At the time of writing, we can't see any support for Tesco Mobile either (unless you buy a Virgin e-voucher). With Vodafone's exit, Voxi customers are likely to be left without Underground Wi-Fi too.
So how do you access free Wi-Fi if you're on Vodafone or another network that doesn't support Wi-Fi on the Tube? Let's find out.
How much does Wi-Fi on the Underground cost?
The obvious (and least appealing) way to get Wi-Fi on the Underground while on Vodafone or an incompatible network is to pay for a Virgin Wi-Fi pass – but it'll cost you:
- £2 for 1 day
- £5 for 1 week
- £15 for 1 month
If you spend a lot of time on the tube, especially now that offices and universities reopening, you can guess that those rates will add up. And when you're already paying a monthly rate for your SIM, it's hard to justify another monthly cost just to access a few minutes of connectivity Underground platforms.
So how do you get around the Underground Wi-Fi cost?
Workaround 1: Switch your network provider (easy but not ideal)
The SIM networks that are supported on the TfL include O2, Virgin, Three, EE, and BT. So you might as well change to one of these services, right? That's the easiest solution, after all. See some of our top SIM recommendations here.
The problem with changing your SIM, of course, is not everyone has that luxury when tied to a 12-month or 24-month contract. Plus, all the effort involved in switching providers just to get free Wi-Fi for a few minutes may not seem worth it.
But you may not need to...
Workaround 2: Get a cheap, compatible PAYG SIM
If you have a dual-SIM phone you don't need to change provider. Just get a cheap Pay As You Go (PAYG) SIM from on a network that supports Wi-Fi on the Underground.
If you don't have a dual-SIM phone, you can still use the same solution. You'll just need to swap your original SIM out with the PAYG SIM every time you're on the Underground. If you don't fancy that, see the best dual-SIM phones we recommend.
If you opt for a budget brand, ensure it's compatible with the London Underground Wi-Fi. Smarty, for instance, operates on O2's network but doesn't work on the Underground.
Once again, ensure you buy a PAYG SIM and not a pay monthly SIM – as you won't actually be using this second card for its data, minutes, or texts (we'll explain).
You want to find a PAYG SIM with a low minimum top-up amount. Look for PAYG options with minimum top-up values between £5 and £10. I opted for GiffGaff where the minimum top-up amount is £10, but Three's is even cheaper at £5 (don't bother buying its Data Packs as you won't actually use it on the Underground Wi-Fi). Both providers can mail you the SIM for free.
The beauty is you'll only need to top up once – once that money is on your PAYG account, it can just stay there as it doesn't expire. Connecting to the Wi-Fi doesn't touch your data usage, and unless you actually use your second SIM to make calls or browse the net, so your top-up amount will stay unscathed.
For roughly the price of a Boots meal deal, you can get a lifetime's supply of free Wi-Fi on the London Underground. Just be sure to set your main SIM as the primary one for your calls, texts and data (some dual-SIM phones will do this automatically).