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Airport Wi-Fi Testing Results - Sep 2015
Monday 12 October 2015 13:28:49 by Sebastien Lahtinen

Public Wi-fi is becoming ubiquitous across coffee shops, the transport network and many other locations across the globe. This is particularly useful for those looking to catch up on a bit of work on their laptop or tablet, especially tourists who might not be able to use 3G/4G data at reasonable rates due to roaming costs often being particularly high.

We have been testing airport wi-fi for some time both in the UK and across the world, but we decided to carry out specific comparative tests across the five major London airports within a shorter period to see how they perform.

So between the end of August and early September, we visited Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stanstead and London City airports to carry out tests on their free wi-fi service.

We found that Stansted provided the fastest service by far with peak download speeds of 8.1Mbps, although it only provided one hour of free wi-fi which is pretty poor given how long passengers have to be at airports. Gatwick was the worst at a mere 0.5Mbps. Luton performed better at 4.5Mbps; both Gatwick and Luton provide 90 mins free wi-fi. Heathrow performed quite poorly on its free wi-fi service at 1Mbps however there is no longer a time limit on how long you can use it, which is a pretty good deal. A few quid will buy you access to Premium Wi-fi for a few hours at around 5Mbps.

London City Airport appear to be presenting the best proposition with both 4Mbps download speeds but also no limits on its wi-fi service (at least that we could see) in terms of length of use. This is somewhat ironic because London City resembles more of a bus terminal than an airport as it's geared for people to travel through, rather than spend much time inside.

London Airport free Wi-fi speeds - Sep 15
(click to view larger version)
London Airport free Wi-fi speeds - Sep 15 (large image)

We have been testing airport Wi-Fi across the world with various devices and some airports manage speeds over 50Mbps on a fairly consistent basis, although we have seen some significantly faster results too. Above this point, we have found the choice of device starts affecting results as antennae on laptops can for example perform better than those on smaller mobile phones even when using the same technology. However at the London speeds, most devices would be able to max out the connections and all our testing was carried out both across a phone and laptop to be certain of the speed limits.

Premium Wi-fi has become something airports push for additional revenue, so there is lttle incentive in improving the free services. At Gatwick, Heathrow and Stanstead, the rate is between £8-9/day, not exactly breaking the bank on a long transfer, but you already pay for the airport's use in the price of your plane ticket.

Upload speeds varied and sometimes performed better, although Stanstead's upload speed was similar to Luton and London City and not ahead as it was with downloads. Registration systems varied across the airports from no registration being required through to needing to watch an advert prior to use.

We are encouraged to check in two to three hours before departure in many cases and with unpredictable road traffic and connecting flights, there plenty of reasons for passengers to be spending hours at the airport, and free Wi-Fi is a great way to pass time or finish work. For foreign visitors, who may not have the option of 4G mobile services due to roaming costs, this can be particularly important and it gives them a very poor first impression of UK digital infrastructure.

We have seen both from the Virgin Media Wi-Fi rollout on the London Underground and airports around Europe that fast public Wi-Fi is possible. It’s just a question of whether airports consider Wi-Fi a service to passengers who are already paying to use the Airport, or a revenue stream for the few passengers willing to pay for a premium service.

We'll keep an eye on these speeds and report back next year. If you're a frequent traveller and you're interested in helping us test airport wi-fi, drop us an e-mail on team@thinkbroadband.com.

Update 13/10/15 11:45 :: Heathrow Airport have now confirmed that their free Wi-fi service is no longer limited to 4 hours, so registration for Heathrow Rewards is no longer necessary to benefit from unlimited free Wi-Fi.

Comments

Posted by Llety about 1 year ago
Newerk, New Jersey - 22mb
Denver International Starbucks - 32mb
Geneva airport - 50mb ( I did find I had connected without knowing it to EDUROAM, CERN is a great thing )

1-4Mb does the job, but hardly international standard.


Posted by keith969 about 1 year ago
It's the same with hotels. Some provide amazing wifi (for example the Marriot Courtyard in downtown San Franciso) where as others charge you ridiculous rates (e.g. in the Caribbean) for a slow service, weird that, I got free wifi in public area on a Maldives island which was better than that!
Posted by Michael_Chare about 1 year ago
I think that finding free wifi at Gatwick was an achievement. Did you try both terminals?

For me free wifi at UK airports is less of an issue as I can hopefully use my mobile phone as a hotspot. I have often used the free wifi at Geneva aiport
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
@Michael_Chare: No just the North Terminal; we haven't seen any significant speed differences in different areas of airports (we've tested Heathrow T2, T3 and T5 for example before).

Mobile phone as hotspot is fine if you can do that but the unique thing about airport wi-fi is that it doesn't work for those who have to pay high roaming bills.
Posted by David-Park about 1 year ago
Did you try Ibiza airport, tried to get into their free 30mins on Saturday, lots of personal questions to give to get in then started a further spam type questions and I gave up trying.
Please test and report on the various FREE Wi-fi I no longer trust them.
Posted by unobroadband about 1 year ago
Virgin Clubhouse in LHR has brilliant wifi at about 20/30Mb when last tested. The BA lounge by comparison was useless at less than a Mb.
Posted by Michael_Chare about 1 year ago
A Nice airport a cafe had a shelf, with a chair/stool and a power point. I needed the power because we where there for sometime.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
@unobroadband: BA lounge was a bit better than LHR wi-fi but nothing great. Both run by Arqiva I think. If VS want to invite us to test, very happy to do that. I do want to try VS one day but may be a while if I have to do it under my own steam :)
Posted by mitchja about 1 year ago
@unobroadband You must have got the Virgin Clubhouse WiFi on a good day as sometimes it can be dreadfully slow in there. Mobile coverage (EE) is rubbish in there as well (unless you go outside in the patio area).
Posted by leexgx about 1 year ago
i guess the last time i to on airport the free wifi was provided by the drink shops like costco or mcdonalds (or random BT wifi that the shops was using but had not turned off the BT wifi hotspot that is not free but i have a BT broadband account so i can use them)

but really speeds can very much depend on how many are using it and if they have not setup QOS to limit to 0.5mb/s per ip (and if they are just using ADSL to feed the router, not a lease line or Virgin)
Posted by Chrismb about 1 year ago
I've always found the lounge WiFi at T5 to be fine. And yes, the WiFi at City is always good too. Though the best ones are the Arab nations.
Posted by goldenoldie about 1 year ago
BTW - do look at some of the UK Regional Airports

Glasgow International - you get 30 mins of free WIFI !! no idea as to the speed

Then try somewhere like Dublin - you can be there all day - free WiFi
Posted by fasthorsedog1 about 1 year ago
Gatwick North, 0.5up 0.5dn. I think its rate limited to that, as even next to an AP in a quiet area, got the same. there is a premium option to go 'superfast' though from memory
Posted by avtdvt about 1 year ago
Free WiFi at LGW is at best SO slow, it is useless! I agree totally with the editorial that it also gives a very poor first impression to foreigners using LGW.
And yes, like most European airports it should be FREE and good quality. I have just posted a complaint on the Gatwick website. Please do the same, miracles DO happen and perhaps someone there listens and takes action...
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