London councils planning public Wi-Fi using lampposts

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Service providers bidding on right to provide public wireless services in capital

London councils are in the closing stages of a procurement process to bring public Wi-Fi and mobile phone signal infill networks to public spaces across the capital.

The scheme could see residents receive free Wi-Fi access using a system of transceivers attached to lampposts, bus shelters and other street furniture.

Geoff Connell, director of IT for Newham Council, one of the 16 authorities involved in negotiations with suppliers, said the project was already under way. "The boroughs are basically saying 'we have these assets such as lampposts and street furniture that are available', and suppliers are bidding to use those for wireless services," he told PC Pro.

The boroughs are basically saying 'we have these assets such as lampposts and street furniture that are available', and suppliers are bidding to use those for wireless services

According to Connell, the scheme would enable local councils to generate revenue from selling access to their assets and give consumers free Wi-Fi access. That wireless network would connect back to the internet backbone through hubs on wired-up lampposts and other council-owned property.

The proposals – first uncovered by V3 – could also provide better mobile signals, with "small cell technology" used to add capacity to networks in busy areas where services are overrun with data demands.

Small cells have a range between 10m and 200m and allow carriers to improve capacity in busy areas – something seen as key as LTE services become available.

According to Connell, the tendering process could be completed within two to three weeks, with initial services potentially up and running within a year, although mobile infill would be expected to take longer since the technology is newer.

Major mobile companies and ISPs are involved in negotiations, Connell said, and the Wi-Fi services are expected to be run on a similar model to the way Virgin's London Underground web access works, with advertising and potentially subscriptions generating income for the service provider.

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