City-wide wireless broadband coming to the UK?

Having seen its service deployed in Oklahoma and Minnesota, Birmingham could be the next stop for Tropos Networks

A company that has built a number of city-wide wireless broadband networks in the US is talking to UK local government authorities in a bid to do the same here.

Tropos Networks is in discussions with council members in Birmingham, and other unnamed cities, about putting access points in lampposts to provide Wi-Fi throughout cities and suburban areas, the company revealed on Thursday.

"Downtown is okay to have access, but people don't live there," said Ron Sege, president of Tropos. "In and around London would be attractive for us as we want to go where people are, and you can deploy this in weeks."

The company claims that people will be able to get wireless speeds of up to 6Mbps through the service, with 10 access points deployed per square kilometre. These access points form a wireless mesh, and are connected to WiMax hubs that provide backhaul to the point of presence.

Emergency services in Oklahoma City are already using the service over an area of 1,000 square kilometres, said Sege, adding that 2,500 homes in Chaska, Minnesota, are also linked up to a Tropos network.

The idea of using lamp posts to support wireless networks is a popular one. Last Mile Communications wants to use lampposts to offer a location-based wireless service.

However, phone companies are hitting back at Tropos, with firms such as Verizon, SMB and Qwest pushing for legislation to prevent the rollout of wireless access points.

Verizon recently supported legislation that would have prevented communities in Philadelphia from building their large-scale own wireless networks.

"They are worried about us taking their business," said Sege. "The phone companies will deploy this but the tactics they use are detrimental to the consumer. I can sell broadband at half the price of DSL — to withhold this is a crime in my view."

Sege added that telecoms watchdog Ofcom needed to watch this situation carefully in the UK.

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