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Central London Wi-Fi zone gets green light

Council workers' access only

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London will become one of the world's leading wireless city, the Westminster Council said today as it cut the ribbon on a project to turn the West End into a Wi-Fi zone for its workers.

The scheme, revealed by The Register over a year ago, is being extended from an initial test - put in place last September - in Soho Square, Greek Street and Frith Street. It now extends to the whole of Soho, bordered by Shafesbury Ave, Regent Street, Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road.

Westminster expects to have the infrastructure in place within the next six to nine months. "We're starting small because we need to build (the infrastructure) credibly," said chief executive Peter Rogers. The project has to meet "government expectations" on cost efficiency and quality of service, he said.

Council ICT director Simon Norbury said the build-out would not be easy, describing Soho as one of the harshest radio environments in the world, due to the high density of technology in the area.

Westminster will use the zone initially to connect noise-monitoring and CCTV cameras without the need to rip up the region's paving and lay down cables or partner with a service provider.

The motivation is primarily financial. Many of the other benefits - better protection of the public, for example - apply to whatever network the council uses. Westminster expects to knock more than £30,000 off the price of each camera, for example.

The other key advantage is mobility. The WLAN supports mobile cameras and makes it easier to move cameras to better meet police needs, for example.

The Council expects to extend the number of functions handled by the WLAN over time, primarily to allow steet-level Council opratives to file reports and access databases without having to return to base.

Beyond that, the Council hopes to extend access to residents to connect them to Council services. Rogers discussed the need to help "people live well in their homes and in the city". One such application is monitoring elderly and vulnerable residents. However, he said this remained a "very long-tem" goal.

Ultimately, the Council wants to offer commercial services, but Rogers admitted that would require a different regulatory framework to permit local government to operate as a commercial entity.

It's for that reason that the WLAN will remain private, Rogers said. ®

Related stories

London's Soho to get blanket 802.11 cover for voice, data
London Wi-Fi plan hits lamppost
Can Westminster really set up a WiFi zone in a month?

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