‘StreetNet’ – Free Wi-Fi for North London

Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief

I expected the big outdoor media owners to be the first to roll out free Wi-Fi in major cities – possibly along with both their traditional and digital billboards as part of ‘urban regeneration’, ‘corporate social responsibility’ etc – think of the JC Decaux free bicycle scheme in Paris as to what good a large media owner can do for the community (and of course what an incredibly positive public reaction it gets).

If you have (electrical) power already to a billboard (even the traditional ones do as they are often lit up), it’s not much more of a job to get IP via DSL, 3G or even Satellite (yuk) and bring your billboard online. If I was CTO for CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel, JC Decaux, Lamar, Stroer, Titan Outdoor or Wall AG for a day (if only!!!!) I would be offering free Wi-Fi via every outside billboard (whether traditional or digital) as the first thing I did.

So even more (a bigger) hats off to Cityspace who beat them all to it –
‘Islington unveils London’s first wireless housing estate’ – albeit in one small part of London.

Cityspace, who brand themselves as a provider of urban digital networks (we have posted here before about their kiosks) have been working with Islington’s Technology Solutions Group and have now brought free broadband access to hundreds of social housing residences via wi-fi.

Cllr Terry Stacy, Islington Council’s Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Housing and Communities said “As a council we are always looking for new ways for residents to access our services but the cost of an internet connection has been a barrier for some. Now we’ve made it free, anyone can easily get useful information to help improve their lives. The network also provides the council with another opportunity to reach our residents, and, critically, it’s a key enabler for regeneration – strengthening communities and increasing opportunities for people to work and learn wherever they are.”

Islington pioneered municipal wireless broadband with London’s original largest free network back in June 2005. The ‘Technology Mile’ as it was then called, ran from the affluent hub of the borough at The Angel to Highbury & Islington. In February last year, it was extended to 2.3 miles into the less privileged communities of Holloway Road and now runs into the ward of Canonbury, creating a virtual ‘wireless ward’ of approximately an additional square mile.

An average of 15,000 users are logging onto the network every month.

Marc Meyohas, CEO of Cityspace, said “This extension truly demonstrates the value of an urban municipal wireless service. Whilst plans are being considered for mobile working, VoIP, CCTV and other useful applications, the service is delivering a valuable commodity to the borough and Cityspace is proud to play its part in the project.”

About Cityspace

Cityspace is in the business of making cities more accessible by giving people information and useful services where they’re needed most. It is uniquely placed to deliver a complete ‘digital city’ infrastructure.

Since 1996 the company has been designing and delivering helpful services in public spaces through its innovative urban digital networks. These managed networks use the latest broadband technology to connect communities with real-time information at the point of need using interactive, broadcast and transactional services.

The company comprises three divisions:

Cityspace Transport works with transport authorities and rail and bus operators to deliver real-time information, journey planning, off-board ticketing and security which makes it easy to use public transport

Cityspace Wireless delivers outdoor wireless broadband networks for public access to online services and the internet, mobile working efficiencies for local authorities and wireless connectivity for fixed infrastructure, such as traffic signals and CCTV

Cityspace Interactive Media provides information and transactional services through self-service terminals in public spaces. Positioned in pedestrian hubs, these terminals help the public to reach their council, navigate the city and access job opportunities, free email and other useful services

One of my issues with the folks who have been deploying Bluetooth alongside their digital screens is that for the same cost, one could have deployed Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is just a replacement for ‘cords’ and to my mind has nothing else useful to offer apart from connecting a phone to a laptop, a keyboard or mouse to a PC, a camera to a printer etc.

Wi-Fi on the other hand can get you on the Internet and that folks is what it is all about (just ask Google why they are interested in encouraging free wireless in major cities and in the wireless spectrum auctions). With a wi-fi enabled billboard you can give users a walled-garden of sites they can visit, time limited Internet access, whatever. You get an immediate call to action.

It used to be (I think) that people thought Bluetooth because of mobile phones, but what high end mobile phone now does not (or will not in the next 6 months) have wi-fi built-in – how many Christmas stockiings will be filled with the iPod Touch, how many corporate business users will upgrade their Blackberry’s next year to the new version with wi-fi built-in.

That Ladies and Gentlemen is your audience – wi-fi equipped mobile users!

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