Virgin Media has revealed it is close to launching a public Wi-Fi network in London that could rival BT's Openzone.

The ISP's chief executive Neil Berkett said the company was in "quite advanced negotiations" with London councils and that the service could be launched "in the not too distant future".

"The proposition would be that we would provide free Wi-fi access for all," he said.

The Wi-Fi network, which will be free to use, would offer speeds of 'up to' 0.5Mbps to any Brits in the area, while Virgin Media customers would be able to access speeds of 'up to' 10Mbps through the Wi-Fi network.

At present BT's Openzone Wi-Fi network is free to BT customers but costs other web users as much as £5.99 to surf the web for 90 minutes. The Wi-Fi networks offers speeds of 'up to' 8Mbps depending upon how close users are to hotspots.

"It is part of our ethos of advancing digital lifestyles," said Berkett who also described the network as a "punt".

Berkett also said there was a gap "that is increasingly occurring between consumers' need for data outside the home and what they can get on 3G".

Virgin Media first revealed in November last year it was considering using its fibre network to create hundreds of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK. At the time, the ISP told the Telegraph it wanted to follow in the footsteps of US provider Cablevision, which joined forces with TimeWarner, in a $300m scheme to roll-out thousands of public Wi-Fi hotspots across America in areas where mobile networks struggle with 3G coverage.

The Wi-Fi hotspots will be created by placing routers in secure locations across the country and then connecting them to the Virgin's roadside fibre boxes.