Free WiFi will be in place across the city centre by late November, city chiefs have promised – paving the way for high-speed internet access 24 hours a day in time for Christmas.
The long-awaited roll-out, first mooted in 2014, is being introduced on a phased basis throughout central Edinburgh, from Queen Street to the Meadows and Haymarket to Holyrood Park.
And today the organisers of the Capital’s Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations said the free WiFi would mean more people than ever sharing images of themselves and the city’s famous sights on social media during the festive period, which in turn would attract yet more visitors to Edinburgh.
Charlie Wood, of Edinburgh’s Christmas said “Having free WiFi across the centre of Edinburgh is a huge step forward in making the city a leading tourist destination and encouraging those living here to share what Edinburgh has to offer.
“For major events such as Edinburgh’s Christmas it’ll support a global presence and profile through social sharing on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram giving people far and wide a glimpse of the world class festivals and events we put on in the city and drawing them to visit in the future.”
John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, previously hailed the new service as encouraging visitors to share more pictures of the Capital, raising the city’s profile.
He said: “The new free WiFi service across the city centre will connect visitors and residents to Edinburgh on a whole new level.
“Rather than worrying about potentially expensive mobile roaming charges, international visitors will be able to make the most of their time in the city, sharing images and posts in real time as they explore what Edinburgh has to offer.”
Installation of the WiFi service is currently 82 per cent complete, council officials revealed, with a “soft launch” already in place on the Royal Mile.
The final scheme will see vital connection equipment installed in more than 20 buildings and 185 lighting and CCTV posts – making it the biggest of its kind in Scotland.
Meanwhile, extra WiFi access points will be added over Christmas and Hogmanay to cope with the annual influx of visitors from around the globe.
But critics raised concerns over delays to the project.
Councillor Cameron Rose, leader of the city’s Conservative group, said: “I’m anxious that after a significant delay which was apparently outside the council’s control two years ago, this project is pushed forward as quickly as possible so the public and visitors to the city get the benefit of it, particularly during the festivals.”
A previous deal to roll-out free WiFi in the city centre over the summer of 2014 collapsed after the provider went bust.
Spanish WiFi firm Gowex, which signed a ten-year contract with the city, filed for bankruptcy after chief executive Jenaro Garcia Martin admitted filing inaccurate accounts.
Pushing ahead with a fresh attempt, council chiefs said in May this year that free WiFi would be in place by autumn.
In response to questioning by Cllr Rose, officials admitted there had been “some delay”.
They said: “Work has been ongoing with numerous third parties, and the council’s legal, property, planning, lighting, roads and facilities management teams to facilitate this work.
“Due to the complications of working in a World Heritage Site the installation team has had to overcome numerous challenges in order to progress which has resulted in some delay to the roll-out.”
IntechnologyWiFi will install and operate the WiFi network at no cost to the council, with funding provided by the UK government.
The company has previously provided internet connectivity for major music festivals such as Reading, Download, Latitude and Creamfields.
It has also agreed a deal with the English Football League to provide stadium free WiFi to clubs across its portfolio.
The service means residents can access the internet without using any data allowance – saving them money.
Councillor Frank Ross, SNP group leader and the council’s digital champion, said: “IntechnologyWiFi, which is installing free WiFi in the city on a concession basis for the council, is in the final phase of their roll-out.
“An announcement will be made in the next couple of weeks to let everyone know when they can access their favourite apps and websites free while they are out and about.
“This is great news for the millions of residents and visitors who enjoy our city each year, particularly as the roll-out will be launched in time for this year’s winter festivals. This project is central to the council’s plans for growing the city economy, and encouraging residents and visitors to stay longer and increase their spend.”
Natalie Duffield, chief executive of IntechnologyWiFi, said: “The rolling out of free internet connectivity in the city centre represents an ambitious and exciting step forward for Edinburgh in meeting the demands of residents and tourists.
“This is believed to be the biggest roll-out of blanket WiFi coverage in Scotland, if not Britain.
“Our team has been working hard to complete the installation of equipment and connections across this beautiful and historic World Heritage Site.”
She said once it was fully operational, the platform would allow millions of people to enhance their experience of living, working and holidaying in Edinburgh.
“It will also provide multiple opportunities for local businesses to connect with new and existing customers to develop the city economy.
“We are delighted to be partnering with the city council and investing in this forward-looking project.”