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Hard-up Brit bankers bag endless free Wi-Fi during cig breaks

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The City of London will get free unlimited Wi-Fi internet access from The Cloud following a successful six-month trial.

The wireless connectivity biz blanketed the capital's financial district with Wi-Fi in 2007 but limited city slickers to 15 minutes of free use before it started charging for the service.

But in March this year the City of London Corporation removed that restriction for a six-month trial, just in time for the 2012 Olympics. The test run proved successful and now it will be extended indefinitely.

Wireless users can hang around St Paul's Cathedral or enjoy a lengthy smoke break outside the Gherkin without having to pay a penny - although they'll still be expected to sign up with an email address and invited to spend a little time on The Cloud's splash page populated with content from its parent BSkyB.

Municipal Wi-Fi has a history so poor it can't even be considered "checkered": almost every project around the world has launched with a wave of optimism and smiling politicians, only to be exposed a year or two later as a financial black hole that is quietly forgotten as soon as the voters are looking elsewhere.

Meanwhile shops and restaurants have been dropping hotspots into their premises as a freebie, particularly in the US where the prohibitive cost of cellular data drives the search for alternatives, reducing the need for authority-sponsored schemes.

There are a handful of exceptions, and the city's preponderance of offices gets it onto that list. London's shops and restaurants are gathered around the West End so the city is full of smartphone-touting bankers, some of whom, by happy coincidence, juggle large teams of international travellers who require just the kind of connectivity offered by The Cloud.

If enough of them sign up then the free service should prove sustainable, but there are no promises here: free Wi-Fi isn't a right and one should expect the plug to be pulled pretty quickly if the load is too great.

Public Wi-Fi is scheduled for a revolution in the next year or two with the adoption of Hotspot 2, which enables mobile phones to roam onto Wi-Fi networks as though they were cellular networks.

Once that happens companies like The Cloud will be able to bill mobile operators for connectivity, while providing free connections to anyone prepared to go through the registration process to clocking up their mobile data. This should result in better connectivity for all, but until then a bit of free Wi-Fi is always welcome. ®

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