The nearest thing you’ll get to ubiquitous WiFi in Birmingham UK


This is what my Wi-Fi looks like.

Off and on I’ve thought about spending a whole week laptop working in Birmingham’s city centre, to try to get a feel for how well we provide WiFi coverage. And then you know, document it.

I kinda don’t need to now.

This is a Starbucks “reward” card. Don’t be fooled by the logo they use to sell them to you: they are the old style gift cards. If you have one* you can logon to any Starbucks hotspot you can find. Given the market penetration of Starbucks in UK cities, that’s the nearest thing you’ll get to free universal WiFi coverage**. You’re never more than a foot from a rat, and I’m never more than a yard from a fat pipe.

The Starbucks WiFi is actually pretty solid. A lot of the free Wi-Fi hotspots in other cafés in Brum are really slow and unreliable compared to how they were (maybe because so many people are using them now, and asking more of them in terms of bandwidth). As an added bonus, a tall filter (which is the best drink ‘bucks do IMHO) is only a quid making your guilt beverage much cheaper than going into rival stores. You can also double your espresso shot, gratis, or put sugary flavoured crap in your drink, also for no extra charge***.

* If you don’t have one just ask, and stick a fiver on it, which you can then spend on cheap coffee. Win Win
**warning: doesn’t work in the countryside or in residential districts (i.e. near your house if you live in the ‘burbs)
*** evil corporation yadda yadda bored now. I still like Urban Coffee Company more, OK? And I like, totally drink fairtrade. THERE’S FREE INTERNETS FFS!

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Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research:

  • Dave Harte

    Worth adding that Eat, Pret-a-manger and McDonalds share use of ‘The Cloud’ for their free wifi. Requires minimal sign-up on one of them and then log in works across all. Between them and Starbucks the city centre is near covered. No publicly funded intervention needed; who’d of thought eh?

  • Jon Hickman

    Good point Dave. The only disadvantage with this ad hoc approach is that it’s there by the grace of corporations, and can be taken away. Not being centrally and publicly funded means it can’t be used as a selling point for the city. You can’t really point it out to visitors etc.

  • Lee Pellington

    Hey Jon, great post. I sent the following as an email to Nottingham City Council regarding free city wide wifi. They’ve not yet got back to me though.

  • John Bidder

    I like this App for iPhone alot – its the Clouds fast Connect that gives you everyone who’s on their books by location and distance from where you currently are. V Handy.

  • John Bidder

    Whoops – and here’s the link for the last comment!

  • Jon Hickman

    @john thanks for sharing the link.@Lee interesting – did you get a reply? And how does Nottingham centre fair for Starbucks and Pret type free wifi?

  • Lee Pellington

    Not yet, need to chase them. Very disappointed. Nottingham has a fair few Starbucks and Pret etc. We’ve also got a few arty places that offer proper quick free wifi. The Nottingham Contemporary ( has great coffee + free fast wifi, but no plug sockets! So second battery has become my best friend when doing the nomad working thing. The whole Swindon thing sound like it has fallen through