In the UK, there are four main providers of free public wi-fi: BT Wi-Fi, O2 Wi-Fi, The Cloud and Virgin Media Wi-Fi. Find out how to get access to each of these services.

WiFi LogoIt’s now fairly straightforward finding free wi-fi when you’re out-and-about here in the UK. Whether you’re in a high-street coffee store, supermarket or bank, there are four main providers of free wi-fi internet you’re likely to come across: BT Wi-Fi, O2 Wi-Fi, The Cloud and Virgin Media Wi-Fi.

In this article, we’ll review and compare the main public wi-fi providers in the UK. We’ll discuss the level of service available on each provider and how you might qualify for their free wi-fi internet. We’ll also show you to how to find nearby hotspots.

BT Wi-Fi

BT Wi-FiBT Wi-Fi is by far the UK’s largest provider of public wi-fi internet (it was previously known by the name of BT Openzone until 2012).

At the time of writing, there are 5.1 million BT Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK. Premium hotspots can be found in many high-street coffee stores, supermarkets, department stores and banks. They include branches of Starbucks, Tesco, Marks & Spencers, John Lewis, Barclays, HSBC and TSB Bank. Premium BT Wi-Fi hotspots can also be found in hotels and service stations like Hilton and Welcome Break.

As well as the many BT Wi-Fi hotspots found on the high street, there are also a large number of BT Wi-Fi hotspots to be found in residential areas. This is because most customers of BT Broadband (the nation’s largest ISP) share a portion of their internet connection with other customers through the BT Wi-Fi service. The public portion of the BT Wi-Fi service is always fenced off from the customer’s private home wi-fi network for privacy and security.

Find BT Wi-Fi Hotspots →

BT Mobile Family SIM
Getting a BT Mobile SIM card is likely the cheapest way to access BT Wi-Fi.

The cheapest way to get access to BT Wi-Fi hotspots is to order a BT Mobile SIM card for your smartphone. This will give you a free log-in for BT Wi-Fi with unlimited downloads and unlimited uploads on BT Wi-Fi hotspots. BT Mobile’s SIM-only deals start from just £10/month (discounted to £5/month if you’re a BT Broadband customer).

You’ll also have inclusive free access to BT Wi-Fi hotspots if you’re a customer of BT home broadband.

If you don’t want either a BT Mobile or BT Broadband subscription, it’s also possible to buy standalone access directly from BT Wi-Fi. This is more expensive as the cheapest subscription starts from £15/month on a 12-month contract:

  • Pay As You Go: £4 for 1 hour, £10 for 1 day, £25 for 5 days or £39 for 30 days.
  • Pay Monthly: £30/month (3 month commitment) or £15/month (12 month commitment).
    Available from £10/month on a BT Mobile SIM card.

All BT Wi-Fi packages come with unlimited downloads & unlimited uploads.

O2 Wi-Fi

O2 Wi-FiO2 Wi-Fi provides free public wi-fi at “thousands of hotspots” across the UK. It’s available to everyone, regardless of the mobile network they’re on, with you just needing to provide a UK phone number to get access to the service.

O2 Wi-Fi is available in locations including Argos, Costa Coffee, David Lloyd, Halfords, Homebase, House of Fraser, McDonalds, Nandos, Pizza Hut, Subway and Santander. You can find a map of nearby hotspots on the O2 Wi-Fi website.

Find O2 Wi-Fi Hotspots →

Your usage of O2 Wi-Fi is limited to a maximum of 10GB per month.

The Cloud

The CloudThe Cloud Wi-Fi is Sky’s public wi-fi service with 20,000 hotspots across the UK.

At many locations, it’s free for anyone to access The Cloud. However, to do so, you’ll need to set up an account. This involves choosing a username & password and also providing some personal information to the service.

At other hotspots from The Cloud, you may sometimes need to pay for a subscription. This is sometimes on a “freemium” model. For instance, London Overground provides 60 minutes of free wi-fi on The Cloud each day. If you continue using the service after this, you’ll need to pay for the service.

You can find hotspots from The Cloud at branches of Caffè Nero, Eat, Greggs, Pret a Manger, Pizza Express, Wagamama, WHSmith, Wetherspoons and more. You can also get access to The Cloud at 79 London Overground stations. For a a map of nearby hotspots, please see The Cloud website.

Find The Cloud Hotspots →

At paid-for hotspots, the price may vary depending on the location.

Virgin Media Wi-Fi (London Underground)

London Underground Wi-FiIf you’re travelling on the London Underground, you can currently access wi-fi internet at 250 stations. The service is provided by Virgin Media and is available in ticket halls, corridors and station platforms (it’s not available when your train is passing through the tunnels).

If you’re a customer of one of the following mobile networks, you’ll normally receive free access to wi-fi on the Tube:

  • EE: Eligible customers of EE, Orange and T-Mobile will get free access to wi-fi on the Underground. All Pay Monthly customers are eligible for the offer. Meanwhile, Pay As You Go customers will need to have topped up their phone by least £5 in the last 30 days. You can connect your phone to EE WiFi-Auto if your device supports SIM card authentication, otherwise you can log in to Virgin Media WiFi hotspot. For more information, please see this guide on EE’s website.
  • O2: On O2, both Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go customers get free access to wi-fi to the Underground. If you’re a Pay As You Go customer, you’ll need to have topped up your phone at least once in the last 90 days.
  • Three: On Three, both Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go customers are able to access wi-fi on the Underground. If you’re a Pay As You Go customer, you’ll need to have used your phone at least once in the last 30 days for making a call, sending a text or browsing the mobile internet.
  • Vodafone: If you’re a Pay Monthly customer on Vodafone, you’ll get access to wi-fi on the Tube so long as your plan includes an allowance of mobile data. If you’re a Pay As You Go customer, you’ll need to have an active Big Value Bundle to access wi-fi on the Underground. For more information, please see the Vodafone website.
  • Virgin Media: If you’re a Virgin Media customer, either for your mobile or for home broadband, you’ll get free access to Virgin Media Wi-Fi.

If you’re not an existing customer of one of the mobile networks above, the cheapest way to get access to wi-fi on the Tube is by ordering a Pay As You Go SIM card from Three. The only condition is you’ll need to use the SIM card at least once every month to qualify for free wi-fi.

You can also buy a standalone pass for Virgin Media Wi-Fi, but this is relatively expensive and starts at £15 for 2 months usage:

  • Pay As You Go: £2 for 1 day, £5 for 1 week, £15 for 1 month or £15 for 2 months.

Find Virgin Media Wi-Fi Hotspots →

More Information

For more information about the free public wi-fi services, please see the official BT Wi-Fi, O2 Wi-Fi, The Cloud and Virgin Media Wi-Fi websites.

As an alternative to using public wi-fi hotspots, it may also be worth investigating tethering on your smartphone.

Your Comments 3 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 3 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Hello,
    There is no mention of FON. What is the status of FON now?
    I signed up to FON several years ago when it was still a community wifi service, and set up a fon hotspot, although it is no longer operational.

    Now, when I go to the UK, I am frequently able to access BT wifi with my Fon ID.

    Any idea whether this is really ongoing?

    • Hi Salvador,
      Thanks for your comment. The FON network is still operational in the UK, though I believe it’s now a part of BT. Customers who have a BT home broadband connection are opted in automatically to the FON network, so you’ll frequently see wi-fi networks such as BTWiFi-with-Fon. Obviously, these are piggybacking on someone’s home broadband connection (though it’s a separate reserved part so your privacy, etc is protected). In return, BT customers get free access to BT’s Wi-Fi network and the FON network. I believe this is an ongoing offering.
      Hope this helps,

  • As a BT home broadband customer it is really usefull to have access to BT Wifi when im out and about, saves me using my data and also saves on using texts as I can use Whatsapp.

    I would recommend downloading the Bt Wifi app on your phone as it will auto connect you to BT Wifi hotspots.

    Thanks for the Article.

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