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London gets free Wi-Fi

The Thames gets lined with free wireless Internet coverage, while fee-based hot spots emerge across the United Kingdom.

A free metropolitan Wi-Fi network has been launched in London, continuing the gradual trend toward free public wireless Internet access in Europe and the United States.

The group behind, which serves as a resource for those looking for Wi-Fi hot spots, and the Wi-Fi network infrastructure firm MeshHopper have joined forces to offer free Wi-Fi access to businesses and the public along a 13.6-mile stretch of the River Thames.

MeshHopper's fee-based Thames Wi-Fi network, which went fully commercial last year, covers the same stretch of the river, from Millbank in central London to Greenwich in southeast London.

The free network, which is being marketed at "," gives users free access if they agree to view an advertisement of 15 to 30 seconds in length every 15 minutes. If users don't want to view the ads, they are charged one of a range of fees, including $6 (2.95 pounds) per hour or $20 (9.95 pounds) a month.

The free service operates with modest download speeds of 256Kbps. The paid-for services operate at a faster 500Kbps. has set up 1,500 smaller networks in buildings and open spaces around Europe, but the Thames service is by far its biggest network.

"This really marks the arrival of free Wi-Fi in Greater London," said Dan Toomey, chief executive of Free-hotspot. "Millions of Londoners, as well as commuters, visitors and tourists, can now expect to find free Wi-Fi as they work or play along the Thames."

The network will be extended to 22.3 miles by August.

The service follows the launch last summer of a free citywide Wi-Fi network in Norwich, which is supported by the local council to help generate inward investment.

A free network is expected to be launched in August in Manchester's city center, in direct competition with a paid-for network built by telecommunications giant BT Group.

Paris is currently building a free citywide Wi-Fi network in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent and mobile operator SFR. This network will be offered both to citizens and visitors of the French capital.

BT has built a number of citywide Wi-Fi networks in the United Kingdom in partnership with local councils, and the City of London has backed a similar network for the financial community in partnership with mobile operator The Cloud, but all these networks charge for access.

An increasing number of U.S. towns and cities offer free or subsidized Wi-Fi access, including San Francisco; Philadelphia; Raleigh, N.C.; and Mountain View, Calif.

Antony Savvas of ZDNet UK reported from London.