Government Technology

City of London Fires Up Europe's Most Advanced Wi-Fi Network

May 14, 2007 By

Following almost a year of development and testing, the City of London -- often referred to as just the City or as the Square Mile -- switched on Europe's most advanced outdoor Wi-Fi network at the end of last month, which, according to the City of London Corporation that provides local government services, was an important development for economic reasons. The City is seeking to enhance its status as one of the world's leading international financial and business center.

The City is England's smallest ceremonial county by both population and area covered, but due to the fact that it has one of the densest international financial services communities in the world, it is now regarded as a leading global finance hub along side New York City. Just 1.1 square mile in area, the City sees more than 350,000 people coming in to work or visit the area every day.

"We saw that as a very important application to have because the City has always prided about communication," said Steven Bage, strategic infrastructure advisor, City of London Corporation. "We have always been on the fore front of technology. And it is not just about communication but it is also a lot about business image; we want to be seen as the most up to date on technology."

Besides, added Bage, this roll-out was deemed imperative so that the City offers the finest amenities; "amenities that help improve the operational effectiveness of the business community," he says. "So deploying an umbrella of wireless Internet access will allow a highly mobile business community to have the latest information at its fingertips anywhere, in a sector where every second counts."

The deployment was accomplished through a partnership between the City of London Corporation and The Cloud, Europe's largest Wi-Fi network operator. The Cloud has installed the network and has assumed the responsibility of running it.

"From the point of view of the nature of roll-out and its usage, this project isn't different from the any other municipal Wi-Fi project in Europe," says Niall Murphy, co-Founder & chief strategy officer of The Cloud.  "Still this network is like no other in Europe."

According to The Cloud, the main focus of this project was mobility; hence, this is the only network in the continent that allows total mobility. "The nodes are so advanced that it is ubiquitous and contiguous," says Murphy, "which means that a user can literally walk from one side of the city to the other and the network hands over the connection seamlessly to another node ensuring a consistent mobile connectivity across the city, which is unprecedented."

Usually most city-wide Wi-Fi networks in the world are meant for static applications which means that one has to stay seated -- say on a park bench or in a coffee shop -- or stationary to remain connected.

But "rolling out this network was much more complex than expected," says Murphy. The biggest problem was ensuring close to 95% coverage despite the fact that European laws restrict the power output of a Wi-Fi router to a mere 100mW compared to the 1W as practiced in USA, and as much as the 3W in Asia. Therefore this network required different technology than originally planned. Fortunately, equipment supplied by BelAir Networks offered a novel and advanced mobile broadband mesh technology. The technology consists of multidirectional dual radio nodes that use fiber backhaul. Because of the power restriction BelAir had to install 127 nodes. The number would have been a much lower if the network been in USA, says Murphy.

The other challenge was "finding some 800 points of powered street infrastructure. This number was needed because often these simply did not exist, or they were not tall enough, or were not at the right place, or were corroded, or were not owned

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