Birmingham City Council and Virgin Media Business have revealed plans to launch free public Wi-Fi across key parts of the city centre.
Birmingham’s wireless concession was awarded to Virgin Media Business and forms part of the plan by the council to boost connectivity across the area, stimulating economic growth and tackling digital inclusion for over a million citizens.
The Wi-Fi service will roll out for residents and visitors to Birmingham from September and will be completely free of charge. There will be no usage limits so people can use the service for as long as they need to and will support high bandwidth services like video streaming or online gaming. Some of the initial areas to benefit from this high performance Wi-Fi 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.
The concession will also allow Virgin Media Business to offer their ground-breaking hosting service to mobile operators so that they will be able to use small cells in order to supercharge their wireless networks. Small cells are miniature base stations that allow mobile operators to precisely target where additional coverage and capacity is required. By combining access to the city’s street furniture with Virgin Media Business extensive fibre network, Birmingham will be ready to lead in the rollout of the latest wireless technologies.
Councillor James McKay, cabinet member for a green, safe and smart city, Birmingham City Council, said: "This project will dramatically accelerate mobile broadband investment in the city.
"It will bring enhanced high-speed mobile broadband coverage for more people, and the free Virgin Media Business Wi-Fi 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."
As demand for mobile broadband continues to grow over the coming years, mobile operators will be able to plug into the Virgin Media Business hosting service in order to provide the extra coverage and capacity that their customers will require. 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 of small cells which are expected to start in 2014.
Kevin Baughan, director of wireless, Virgin Media Business, said: "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. 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. 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."
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