Cable carriers are deploying City Wi-Fi networks like never before, but the cities themselves are either right on their heels or partnering with them to do the same. New York City, New Delhi, Bangkok, and Johannesburg are just some of the cities that have decided that free Wi-Fi should be everywhere.
Right now, the mushrooming City Wi-Fi movement is so large that in writing this story it can be very hard to get a perspective on just how much free City Wi-Fi is really going on.
The latest carrier to get into free City Wi-Fi is Canada’s Telus. Telus is partnering with the City of Vancouver to serve up free Wi-Fi at a handful of location thus far. It’s part of Vancouver’s ‘Digital Strategy’ program that doubtless also (although not mentioned specifically) will have some ‘Smart City’ component to it.
The flagship in the making is possibly New York City’s LinkNYC project that is now backed by – among others – Google and Qualcomm. The project aims to install some 100,000 Wi-Fi ‘kiosks’ at street level that provide not only high-speed Wi-Fi but also information services to citizens. They’re part of a drive to replace NYC’s huge number of obsolete phone booths. The Link project is not yet up and running. NYC meanwhile serves up free Wi-Fi in 60 parks and at 100 underground stations.
New Delhi’s first City Wi-Fi network recently launched in Connaught Place in the city centre. The service is only available for free for the first 20 minutes and is then charged at fairly low rates, i.e. about 15 US cents per 30 minutes. This marks the beginnings of the Indian governments big plans for a ‘Digital India’.
The capitol city of Tshwane (formerly Pretoria) in South Africa has had free Wi-Fi by Project Isizwe for about a year, but now it’s neighbour Johannesburg is launching its free City Wi-Fi project with 1,000 hotspot to be set up by the end of the year. The city says it wants to build a foundation for Smart City infrastructure.
So what’s driving all of this? There are probably many reasons but here are the two most important:
Costs: The cost of Wi-Fi is very low compared to cellular subscriptions and not least cellular infrastructure. Municipalities are beginning to discover that the benefits to citizens and not least tourists – many of whom are on expensive cellular roaming plans – boost both tourism & local economies.
The Smart City agenda: The talk about Smart Cities is rampant even though only a few proper Smart City (IoT-type) cases can be said to exist. Still, no city wants to be ‘dumb’ so local governments are tackling the challenge from the right angle: City Wi-Fi services is the right start to a Smart City as IoT-type applications can be built on top of Wi-Fi.
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