Feeds

Virgin Media hangs from traffic lights, hands out free Wi-Fi to Brummies

Don't worry, they'll still get paid

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Virgin Media plans to get mobile operators to pay for free Birmingham-wide Wi-Fi in a deal which could see every traffic light in the city turned unto a 4G cell base station.

The free Wi-Fi is set to go live in September, and comes as part of the government's Super Connected Cities Digital Birmingham's Smart City initiative*. For Virgin, however, it's an opportunity to string the city centre with fibre optic cables which can then be leased out to mobile operators desperate to add backhaul capacity for their 4G connectivity.

"The concession will also allow Virgin Media Business to offer their ground-breaking hosting service to mobile operators" admits the release, explaining that its access to street furniture - lamp posts, traffic lights and so forth - makes it the ideal partner for network operators looking to deploy small base stations.

A cellular base station can only host a certain number of connections, and carry a certain amount of traffic, so the easiest way to increase capacity is to increase the number of base stations. A modern small cell is little bigger than a Wi-Fi router, and with Virgin's fibre for backhaul available, an operator can increase capacity very cheaply.

Last year Virgin trialled the technique in London to establish that cellular traffic would slip happily over its network. With the Birmingham deal in place, there's little reason for network operators to look elsewhere.

In exchange for access to all that street furniture, Virgin will fund the free Wi-Fi in the centre of town, and the city council gets a cut of the revenue from the network operators too, so cellular users will end up paying for the free Wi-Fi service ... even if it's not directly.

The networks don't have to pay Virgin, of course; they can build their own backhaul using wireless or wired links. Finding points to mount the kit will be an ongoing challenge, though. If they do, then Virgin will be in the interesting position where a Brummie using Wi-Fi is a cost, but make him switch to cellular and his traffic becomes pure profit.

Virgin say the Wi-Fi will be offered without caps on time or flow, but they're reserving the right to plaster the connection with adverts if it proves necessary. They'll also have the ability to control the access speed, which could become awfully tempting when throttling the Wi-Fi shifts traffic onto the revenue-generating cellular network.

But despite all that, this looks like one of the more realistic models for metropolitan Wi-Fi. It's certainly more sustainable than many previous attempts, and for anyone lost in the middle of Birmingham a bit of free connectivity will be a welcome relief. ®

Updated to add

After this story was published, a Virgin Media spokesman got in touch to clarify the governmental body involved.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Brits: Google, can you scrape 60k pages from web, pleeease
Hey, c'mon Choc Factory, it's our 'right to be forgotten'
Of COURSE Stephen Elop's to blame for Nokia woes, says author
'Google did have some unique propositions for Nokia'
FCC, Google cast eye over millimetre wireless
The smaller the wave, the bigger 5G's chances of success
It's even GRIMMER up North after MEGA SKY BROADBAND OUTAGE
By 'eck! Eccles cake production thrown into jeopardy
Mobile coverage on trains really is pants
You thought it was just *insert your provider here*, but now we have numbers
Don't mess with Texas ('cos it's getting Google Fiber and you're not)
A bit late, but company says 1Gbps Austin network almost ready to compete with AT&T
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.