London gets monster Wi-Fi hot spot

Devotees of wireless Internet can now roam around a chunk of central London without losing their Web connection

The goal of ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage in the UK has moved closer, with Broadreach unwiring a chunk of London's West End.

The high-speed wireless network operator is creating a "Wi-Fi hot zone" that will extend for more than 500 metres along one of the busiest parts of the UK capital. It will run from the western side of Piccadilly Circus to the Odeon at Leicester Square, and includes the massive Trocadero Centre.

Around two-thirds of the network is already operational, and the eastern side should be finished next month. Wireless Web access will be freely available in the area from Broadreach until the end of this year.

Broadreach says this is the first time that such a large area has been turned into a single commercial wireless networked space in the UK. However, the hot zone is dwarfed by that of University of Twente, which has created a campus-wide wireless network covering some 140 hectares (346 acres). Wi-Fi networks allow users to surf the Web and access corporate networks at broadband speeds, but the down-side is that each Wi-Fi hot spot typically only covers a small area.

According to the more optimistic forecasts, there will soon be tens of thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots. This has led some people to support the "Frog and Lilypad" theory -- that users will soon be able to walk down the street, jumping from one hot spot to another to maintain a constant Web connection.

Magnus McEwen-King, chief executive of Broadreach, claims that the creation of the Wi-Fi hot zone shows that it is possible to bring wireless Internet access to a wider area.

"Because Wi-Fi provides Internet access on the user's terms, we have seen support for, and use of, wireless hot spots increase rapidly. However, we strongly believe that Wi-Fi Internet access use could be simpler and easier," said McEwan-King in a statement.

"So, in a UK first, we have built this hot zone and we are also offering Wi-Fi access across the UK for free until the end of the year."