London to host giant wireless internet network

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Free Wi-Fi zone for Olympics

The largest wireless internet network in Europe is to be rolled out across the UK capital during the next six months, ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Mobile operator O2 plans to provide free internet access to people in the city centre, including the boroughs of Chelsea, Kensington and Westminster.

System hardware is to be installed on street furniture such as lamp posts, allowing those in the vicinity with Wi-Fi-enabled devices to connect, with no cost to taxpayers.

International cities such as New York and Paris already have free Wi-Fi zones around landmarks such as public parks, transport hubs and municipal spaces - but the London scheme will take the concept a step further.

O2 chief operating officer Derek McManus said: "Our longer-term aim is to expand our footprint of O2 Wi-Fi, which is open to everyone, and also intelligently enhance our services at street level, where people need the network the most."

Huge demand

The primary motivation for the launch of the programme is the Summer Olympics (27 July to 12 August), which is expected to bring a huge influx of tourists to London, in addition those who already visit for other reasons.

Councillor Philippa Roe, Cabinet Member for Strategic Finance at Westminster City Council, said: "Westminster welcomes over a million tourists a day, is home to 250,000 residents, employs over half a million people and sees 4,000 business starts-ups each year.

"Visitors to London will easily be able to share their pictures and updates of the Olympic events across social networking sites."

However, there are concerns as to how effectively the network will handle the enormous number of people expected to access it.

Daniel Nolan, managing director of theEword, said: "It is an innovative idea to make the internet available wirelessly to people in the centre of London, especially during the Olympics, as it will make information so much more accessible to visitors and residents alike.

"However, it is likely to undergo very heavy use and it will be interesting to see how the technology copes with demand."