- V3 Apps
Residents Leeds and Bradford will be able to access a free Wi-Fi service before the end of 2012 after local councils signed a deal with Virgin Media Business to deliver the service using small cell technology.
The firm has already trialled the deployment of the technology in Bristol and Newcastle but this rollout represents the first live services outside London as part of the government's £114m super connected cities programme, of which Leeds and Bradford received £14.4m in a joint bid.
The service will see infrastructure installed on street furniture across the city, with the first services live in time for the New Year in Briggate in Leeds and Bridge Street in Bradford, before further expanding across the cities in early 2013.
This will offer free Wi-Fi access at speeds around three times that of standard 3G connections, Virgin said.
"Small cells can transform the mobile experience by providing the connectivity needed to match the explosive broadband demand from the rapidly growing number of smartphones and tablets," added Kevin Baughan, director of wireless at Virgin Media Business.
Councillors for both districts welcomed the move and said it would provide numerous benefits to their residents.
"I'm delighted our citizens, visitors and businesses will be among the first in the country to benefit from a free, fast, accessible city centre Wi-Fi service," said councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council.
Councillor David Green, council leader of Bradford Council added: "The super connected city initiative means a great deal for Bradford as we are a growing city with a big economy and the initiative will give existing local companies a greater competitive edge in national and global markets."
Ovum principal analyst Emeka Obiodu told V3 that it was "commendable" that the councils had taken this decisions and that public money was being used to provide the services.
"Ubiquitous connectivity is always a good thing," he said.
However, he also noted that small cell technology was still an unknown in many ways as its rollout across cities could hit problems, such as would councils allow more than one provider to install equipment on street furniture, or who would pay for rollouts if not centrally funded.
The move marks the continued development of Wi-Fi services in public locations, with Virgin also behind the deployment on the London Underground which has proved hugely popular with users.
Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal.