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ISPreview Talks to Westminster City Council about its FREE O2 WiFi Service

Monday, February 11th, 2013 (1:01 am) - Score 812
wifi wireless internet access

Last year O2 UK signed a new deal to provide visitors and residents of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea (i.e. Central London) with access to one of the largest free wireless internet (wifi) access zones in Europe. Today ISPreview.co.uk interviews both O2 and Westminster City Council (WCC) about what this means and how it’s been funded.

Unfortunately this interview took awhile to reach us and the end result is a series of somewhat predictable answers to our questions. As a result we debated whether or not it was worth posting but in the end here you go. No fanfare, just a simple interview.

The responses from WCC comes courtesy of the Cabinet Member for Finance and Customer Services, Melvyn Caplan. The supporting remarks from O2 appear to be sent via their press office.

The Interview

Q1. Earlier this summer a new deal was announced between Westminster City Council, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and communications provider O2 UK that allowed tourists, visitors and Londoners alike to access free wireless internet (wifi) services in some of London’s busiest parts.

However, similar schemes in other UK cities have run into funding troubles, yet O2 claimed that its new service would be run at no cost to the council or the taxpayer. How, given that O2 must still be able to cover its network costs, was this actually achieved?

ANSWER (O2):

O2 connects people to the things that matter to them. That could be via mobile, broadband or wifi. So this contract fits perfectly with our strategy and brand. O2 can deliver this work because they already have an extensive network which we are able to leverage to deliver the wifi service free to users, to the benefit of the local economy, businesses, visitors and residents.

ANSWER (WCC):

Development of the physical and digital infrastructures of Westminster is a top Council priority. In challenging economic times, we are exploring all opportunities to deliver this objective in partnership with the private sector rather than through use of public funds. One outcome of this has been the contract we recently entered into with O2 which allows them to utilise Council street assets on a service concession basis to deliver WiFi for their commercial customers and our residents and visitors alike.

Q2. The free wifi service currently only covers a limited number of areas, such as Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Exhibition Road. However a wider deployment throughout the boroughs has always been on the cards as part of a “longer term” expansion of the network.

Can you give us any further details about where the free wifi network might go next and what its ultimate coverage goal will be?

ANSWER (O2):

This is an exciting, innovative and ambitious wifi deployment. O2 and Westminster Council are continuously reviewing its performance to make sure it meets all our customers’ needs. We will keep all our customers fully informed of any future plans to develop the project. We understand that other boroughs are also preparing tenders for wifi and O2 may join this process.

ANSWER (WCC):

We are keen that the Wireless service be widely deployed and are working in partnership with O2 to ensure all potential and commercially viable locations are enabled as quickly as possible.

Q3. Are you concerned that offering a free wifi solution might potentially risk distorting the market for commercial wifi operators and other broadband ISPs?

ANSWER (O2):

O2 Wifi is a commercial wifi operator. The fast pace of innovation in this market has rapidly changed the models deployed by operators, many of whom are now able to offer free wifi.

ANSWER (WCC):

Westminster ran an open competition to identify the commercial partner who could make best use of Council street assets as part of their own development plans. The free WiFi being offered is in keeping with services offered by other major world cities.

Q4. The government has just awarded £25m to help deploy “ultrafast” broadband (80-100Mbps+) services into parts of London that have so far been left neglected by the private sector. Do you expect the central London area to gain any benefit from this?

ANSWER (WCC):

Even in the City of Westminster there are areas of high deprivation. We do not have information on where the monies will be spent at present. Details of expenditure such as this are announced, once decisions have been made, through the Council’s website and communication channels.

Q5. Many have questioned why public money should be used to improve broadband services in dense urban / city areas, where there should already be no shortage of customers and thus little reason for the private sector not to invest. Why do you think there has been such a failure by private sector telecoms operators in some parts of London?

ANSWER (WCC):

This question can only be fully answered by the telecoms operators. However, we recognise that our historical city may not in all areas have the same technical infrastructure services as new commercial centres which have had, for example, a range of fast fiber services incorporated into developments. Westminster is determined to take all possible steps to ensure Westminster remains a location of choice for residents, businesses and visitors.

Q6. Finally, would you like to see the government focusing their broadband strategy more on urban areas than connecting up digital isolated rural towns and villages?

ANSWER (WCC):

The government should focus their broadband strategy to work in conjunction with both urban and rural areas. This would enhance economic development opportunities for SMEs across the country and is in line with the government’s digital strategy of “digital by default” and the connection between social and digital inclusion.

END.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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