The fibre network operator Vtesse is to deploy a pilot public Wi-Fi network in Hertford town centre, in order to establish the level of demand for such services in the area.
The company, which is known to be keen to receive government funding for the UK's two upcoming national broadband infrastructure schemes, will run the Wi-Fi hotspots off its national fibre network.
Around £1bn is due to be offered in subsidies to telecoms operators to deploy fibre-based broadband to the so-called 'final third' — the parts of the country least economically attractive to operators. Around £200m will separately be offered to operators to support the universal service commitment — a pledge to ensure all homes and businesses have access to around 2Mbps downstream speeds.
Vtesse has previously said in company statements that results from its pilot networks would be used to support applications for funding. Its pilot networks include: a VDSL deployment in Cornwall in partnership with Virgin Media; fibre to homes just outside Hertford; and a combined WiMax/Wi-Fi network near Corsham in Wiltshire. Vtesse helped form the lobby group Final Third First earlier this month with the aim of campaigning for better coverage across the UK.
Speaking to ZDNet UK on Friday, Vtesse's chief executive Aidan Paul declined to comment directly on funding, but said: "We think it [Wi-Fi] is an important part generally of providing connectivity to not-spots. The disadvantage of fibre-to-the-cabinet [FTTC] is high setup costs. At a certain level [of density of population] you need an alternative. That's what we've done in Wiltshire. [Wi-Fi] is an important part of the mix with FTTC."
Paul said the Hertford trial would help to establish the level of demand and technical factors surrounding roll-out, and would help the company establish how the different networks could fit together to provide future broadband coverage.
Vtesse is trying to attract 100 pilot users for the Hertford wireless network. It has appealed for applications for network access from local people who believe the network would change their personal or work life.
Coverage will be provided by attaching access points to lampposts, with symmetric speeds of up to 10Mbps. The network will be free for pilot users, Vtesse said, with final pricing depending on the level of usage in the pilot.
Vtesse said users would receive better performance over Wi-Fi within the coverage area than they would with 3G mobile broadband, which the company branded "slow and unpredictable".
Public Wi-Fi has not had a successful past in the UK — a similar city centre Wi-Fi project in Norwich was terminated in 2008. Paul told ZDNet UK that he was "not convinced" that Vtesse's Wi-Fi networks will be a commercial success on a standalone basis, but he said it was possible more networks may be rolled out in future. He declined to give specific targets for roll-out.