Birmingham City Council has been interested in constructing a city-wide wireless network for some considerable time now and having invited different potential suppliers to submit proposals this time two years ago, it looks as though the project has finally got the go ahead. A free and unlimited public Wi-Fi network has gone live in parts of Birmingham City centre and will ultimately provide access to the web for more than one million people in the local area, who can now connect to the ‘_Bham Free WiFi’ hotspot.
The network is powered by Virgin Media Business and is currently available in the Victoria Square and Moore Street areas. It will be extended to Navigation Street, High Street, Broad Street, Bennetts Hill and the area surrounding the city’s Cathedral in the future. The area covered will stretch to 2.5 square miles.
Access points have been mounted onto lampposts and other street furniture, which then bounce the signal to Virgin’s fibre optic network. The company is also deploying 3G and 4G small cells located in the city, planning to allow mobile operators network access, to improve coverage as the demand for mobile data continues to increase.
Duncan Higgins, director of marketing at Virgin Media Business said, “This exciting new technology has the potential to supercharge people’s internet services with a capacity to match the growing number of smart devices…Birmingham is a prototype of the super-powered, connected city, which is not only offering free internet services to all, but also accelerating a revolution in the mobile broadband experience.”
The City Council said the network will stimulate economic growth, boost connectivity and provide social benefits to its residents. Councillor James McKay, cabinet member for a green, safe and smart city, Birmingham City Council, said “We’re delighted to be able to offer this unrivalled connectivity in some the best-loved spaces in the city, particularly as more visitors arrive in the coming weeks to enjoy the Frankfurt Christmas Market and other festive celebrations,” he added, “This announcement builds on our connectivity plans for the city which aim to ensure that our citizens and businesses have access to the highest quality and affordable internet services, and establishes Birmingham as the best connected city in the UK.”
The city’s plans to build a superfast network were frustrated last year after Virgin Media opposed the decision to award the Council £10 million in state funding, but it appears as though the two parties have made up and are now assisting each other in this commercial venture. Virgin Media Business has agreed a similar deal with other major UK cities including, Leeds and Bradford. This is part of the government’s super-connected cities initiative. The idea is to install small cells on street furniture to add greater capacity for mobile operators, whilst also providing a free Wi-Fi network for locals.
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