Free gigabit Wi-Fi hot spots launch in London

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Intersection, the company behind the free gigabit-speed Wi-Fi hot spots that have popped up around New York City over the last few years, has launched a new network of the kiosks in London. The network is called InLinkUK, and the kiosks are called InLinks. (In New York, the service is called LinkNYC.) Intersection is working with telecom provider BT and outdoor advertising company Primesight to replace over 1,000 pay phones in major UK cities with InLink kiosks starting today.

Some of the InLink kiosks will replace London’s iconic phone boxes, but InLinkUK says the “majority of the red phone boxes will remain to preserve this iconically British part of the streetscape.” A map of active — and pending — hot spots can be found here.

Like their Stateside counterparts, the kiosks will be more than just a Wi-Fi hot spot. Each one has a touchscreen tablet for access to maps and other city services, and they can also be used to make phone calls. There are USB ports for on-the-go charging emergencies, and for real trouble there’s a dedicated 999 button (the UK’s version of 911). They also won’t allow web browsing, after the controversy caused by that feature in New York City. The big displays on either side will be used for advertising, but they’ll also relay information about weather and status updates for the Tube, London’s underground rail service.

Unlike the LinkNYC kiosks, though, the InLinkUK versions will track the websites you visit on your personal device when you use the Wi-Fi, and it will store that browsing history. This is something all Internet Service Providers (and, therefore, Wi-Fi hot spot operators) are obliged to do in the UK, thanks to the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016, a sweeping piece of legislation that requires ISPs to keep a record of every website that a citizen visits for up to a year. The act was roundly criticized by major US-based tech companies like Facebook and Apple when it was still a bill, but it was made law regardless in late 2016.

London has other free Wi-Fi services, like The Cloud, a network of more than 20,000 hot spots powered by Sky. But InLinkUK is promising fewer restrictions on browsing, as well as much faster speeds. How close your device will get to sending and receiving data at that speed will depend largely on factors like how many users are on a particular hot spot, or your device’s performance itself. InLinkUK says that “rarely will an individual device be able to access a full gigabit, but by providing a gigabit network we are ensuring the best possible performance for all clients.”

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