Birmingham City Council has signed a deal with Virgin Media Business to launch free public WiFi across key parts of the city centre, in a bid to boost economic growth and tackle digital inclusion for those without access to internet.
The WiFi service will be rolled out for residents and visitors to Birmingham from September, will be completely free of charge and will not include any usage limits, so people can use it for as long as they need to.
Some of the initial areas to receive the service include: Victoria Square, New Street, Moor Street, High Street, St Philip’s Cathedral and the plaza in front of the new Library of Birmingham.
“This project will dramatically accelerate mobile broadband investment in the city,” said Birmingham City Councillor James McKay.
“It will bring enhanced high-speed mobile broadband coverage for more people, and the free Virgin Media Business WiFi zone in the city centre will help bridge the digital divide for those who are otherwise unable to access such services.
“Historically, Birmingham was known as the city of a thousand trades, and through the Smart City agenda led by Digital Birmingham, we are keen to embrace modern technologies to encourage enterprise and innovation and to create opportunities to support 21st century living. Boosted 3G and 4G coverage will help businesses of all sizes be as competitive as possible in the fiercely competitive global marketplace.”
The deal will also allow Virgin Media Business to offer a hosting service to mobile operators so that they can use small cells to offload their 3G and 4G networks when they are experiencing high demand and capacity is under pressure. This involves placing small base stations on to street furniture, such as lamp posts, which are then supported by Virgin Media’s fibre backhaul.
Virgin Media Business plans to start its first UK joint trials of the new small cell technology with mobile operators in the coming months in order to prepare the way for the first commercial deployment at the start of 2014.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen consumer demand for mobile data skyrocket as smartphone and tablet use has really come to the fore,” said Kevin Baughan, director of wireless, Virgin Media Business.
“By enabling the deployment of small cell technologies, we’re transforming the mobile broadband experience and ensuring that Birmingham stays on the leading edge of digital connectivity.”
He added: “This means that residents, visitors and businesses will gain access to a superfast mobile services and an unlimited free WiFi service in the city centre for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re very proud to be a key part in meeting the digital goals and aspirations of Birmingham City Council.”