Free wifi and more, coming to a town centre near you

June 4, 2014   |   Oliver Johnson

Local authorities across the UK are leveraging wireless concessions to get community networks built free of charge to the taxpayer. Last week’s news that international wireless specialist Gowex is to roll out a wifi network across public areas in Newcastle is the latest in a series of announcements by councils in several major cities as well as smaller regional and seaside towns.

“Wifi has had several false starts in various locations around the UK. A number of projects have failed in the past, but we seem to have learned from our mistakes and today are seeing more coverage in more locations every week and quite often for free, at least to start with,”

says Annelise Berendt, Principal Associate with Point Topic and co-author of a new report on Wireless Concessions: the wifi opportunity for local government jointly produced with Regional Network Solutions.

Pioneers including city and district local authorities such as Colchester, Glasgow, Leeds & Bradford, Plymouth and Tendring, working with suppliers such as Arqiva, BT, MLL Telecom and Virgin Media Business, are already showing that increasing demand for internet and mobile coverage means that these networks can be built without any cost to the public purse – and in some cases will even bring in new revenues.

Leveraging assets to improve coverage

At the core of these new business models are the concessions that local authorities are able to grant. These provide access to publicly-owned assets – from lampposts and CCTV columns to public buildings – to wireless network providers in return for delivering some form of free wifi access and other potential benefits, bringing high-speed data down to street level.

These wireless networks can exist for a number of reasons. They can offer wide-ranging benefits, from boosting local business to getting the digitally deprived online and from cutting the cost of local government services to stimulating local economic growth.

Advantages potentially include increasing support for small cells and wifi off-load to fill the gaps in 3G and soon 4G mobile coverage, leveraging the backhaul infrastructure required to reach business parks currently poorly served by broadband, and the development of new revenue streams based on wifi advertising and “big data” analysis.

“The result points to local authorities embracing a new all-encompassing digital strategy for local government and its suppliers across the world, not just in the UK,”

says Berendt.

“Economic and social development can be spurred through making an intervention, not in terms of funding, but in the use of
publicly-owned assets.”

According to Callum Knowles, Director at Regional Network Solutions,

“Now is the window of opportunity for local authorities embracing both second tier and smaller cities, county towns and more rural authorities to explore with the market how they can through either a concessionary strategy or a wider more holistic approach through procurement leverage economic, social, commercial and wider community value and benefit from their assets and contracts. Local authorities need to act to ensure they can take advantage of the range of opportunities on offer.”

The report

Point Topic has teamed up with Regional Network Solutions to produce a 50-page handbook called Wireless Concessions: the wifi opportunity for local government. The handbook looks at the background and business case for wireless concessions, revenue estimates, the benefits for local government and the communities they serve, case studies of early wireless concession projects and a guide on how to plan and negotiate your own concession and monitor progress once it is up and running. Click on the report title for more details including a full contents link.

The report is available at a specially discounted price of £245 + VAT until 15 June 2014, after which date the full price of £295 + VAT will apply. Order now by emailing [email protected] or phoning Point Topic on +44 (0)20 3301 3303. If you are not satisfied with the report when you receive it, cancel your order within 15 days and your payment will be refunded in full.

Regional Network Solutions (RNS) was formed to meet the needs of public sector bodies wishing to develop Public Service Network and Next Generation Broadband networks, and which require informed, impartial advice and assistance.