London taxis: Traditional outside, networked inside

London’s iconic black taxis might look the same as ever on the outside, but a growing number of them are entering the networked 21st century on the inside.

Visitors pouring into the city for the 2012 Summer Olympics will find that at least 1,000 branded taxis now sport in-cab cellphone chargers from Vodafone. And the branded-cab advertising company Ubiquitous Taxis has been installing temporary Wi-Fi networks into some vehicles using devices plugged into the cigarette lighters.

A survey has found that cab riders are big fans of that type of support for mobile services: four out of five say they would take advantage of Wi-Fi in a properly equipped taxi, and a similar proportion say they would prefer a Wi-Fi-enabled cab over one without.

Sarah Christmas, head of marketing at Ubiquitous Taxis, said Wi-Fi connectivity is popular with passengers as “(i)t is very patchy across London at the moment and the majority of people will be using their own data package that comes with their phone.”

“For the kind of London taxi audience who like to stay connected and are probably quite upwardly mobile, well connected people, tech-savvy, this is a service that they really want,” she said.

Cab drivers with charging and Wi-Fi capabilities themselves benefit by being able to stay connected. There’s even an app that allows potential passengers to hire taxis by using their smartphones … but only if the cab drivers also have smartphones and networking.

“We appreciate that for people who are busy, who are on the move, and often do not have an office and work on a mobile basis, having power and having data are two really vital things in keeping you connected to the outside world,” Christmas said.

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