City logging on to free wi-fi scheme for parks and buses

Princes Street Gardens could soon offer free wi-fi internet access
Princes Street Gardens could soon offer free wi-fi internet access
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FREE wi-fi internet will be rolled out in areas including Princes Street Gardens and Leith Links under plans to make Edinburgh a super-
connected city.

Advanced 4G networks would also be installed on Edinburgh trams and Lothian buses under proposals being considered by city leaders.

With a goal of allowing remote access to visitors and residents by next year, a large number of devices would be fitted to lampposts to provide uninterrupted access.

City parks are expected to be a priority and there are plans to include the city’s so-called urban villages Leith, Bruntsfield, Stockbridge, among others.

Edinburgh City Council intends to tender contracts to mobile network firms at the turn of the year. Firms such as BT, O2 and Virgin are likely to be among those interested, and would then fund the installation of microcell devices on lampposts.

Business leaders argue that becoming a super-connected city will enable Edinburgh to compete with rivals for business, along with meeting demand from the public.

Alastair Maclean, director of the corporate governance department at the council, wrote in a report to city leaders: “There are opportunities to enhance coverage in the city, particularly for specific groups, such as foreign visitors where access can be costly or complex.”

Following the introduction of wi-fi at London Tube stations, and the ScotRail trial which ran through the summer until last month, there is expected to be considerable demand on public transport.

Ritchie Somerville, strategy manager for the Connected Capital project, told city leaders yesterday: “I’ve had conversations with Lothian Buses to see how they will provide wireless for their fleet. The introduction if wireless access for the trams is also being examined as well.”

Edinburgh has at least 1,780 wi-fi hotspots, but new devices such as the iPhone 5 and iPad channel large amounts of data which places demands on the network.

The city already struggles to meet capacity during the Festival and Hogmanay, and firms are understood to be eager to demonstrate to customers that they can keep up with demand.

Much of the coverage would be free, and covered through existing mobile phone contracts. Firms already share coverage and are likely to group together to ensure blanket coverage rather than compete.

Duncan Watts, head of network expansion at Virgin Media, said there is industry interest in expanding wireless facilities in the Capital.

He said: “People are going online more than ever and using smartphones, tablets and other connected gadgets to do so, often simultaneously, making superfast internet speeds increasingly important. 
Virgin Media is always looking at ways to expand. Our developments in metropolitan wireless represent an exciting opportunity for cities like Edinburgh to be at the forefront of next generation wireless services.”