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London gets a mile of free Wi-Fi

Good news for wireless users in Islington - they can now get free wireless Internet access. But will commercial hot spot operators be pleased?
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Mobile workers in London will be able to get free wireless access across a mile-long swathe of the capital, via a Wi-Fi network financed by Islington Council.

Dubbed the 'Technology Mile', it is thought to be the largest free public-access wireless network built in the UK so far. Islington Council took the decision to fund its creation in order to boost economic activity in the area, and to encourage local residents onto the Internet.

The network, due to be formally launched on Tuesday, covers the length of Upper Street — one of the busiest streets in Islington — from The Angel up to Highbury Corner, and was constructed by wireless network builder Cityspace and BelAir Networks, a wireless equipment vendor.

"This extends the idea of what can be done with Wi-Fi," claimed Phil Belanger, vice-president of marketing for BelAir Networks. "We started with Wi-Fi networks in coffee shops, now we're moving to larger projects and venues like trains and sports arenas."

The network is made up of eight interconnecting nodes, and Belanger estimates that each node could support up to 50 users simultaneously, depending what demand each made on the network. Users will connect over 802.11b, the most widely-used form of Wi-Fi, which means just over 5Mbps of bandwidth will be available at each node. The network uses the faster 802.11g flavour of Wi-Fi, with a theoretical maximum speed of 54Mbps, for backhaul.

Islington Council is also donating PCs to some local businesses as part of its push to increase Internet use in the area.

No-one from the council was available to discuss its plans ahead of next month's elections, but Belanger insisted that the Technology Mile wasn't bad news for commercial Wi-Fi operators.

"It's not so black and white as that," Belanger said, who believes that Islington-based mobile workers who currently pay to use a service such as BT Openzone are likely to continue doing so.

"If you already have a Wi-Fi account that works, you'll probably keep using that," claimed Belanger.

"Islington Council isn't in the business of competing with BT. They're doing this for other reasons," Belanger added.

Many local government bodies are interested in the potential of Wi-Fi. Last year Westminster City Council built a Wi-Fi network that supports CCTV cameras and provides Internet access to some council workers.

In the US, the city of Philadelphia has overcome opposition from telcos and is planning to build a gigantic wireless Internet hot spot covering 135 square miles.

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