This week, the cities of London, England and Toronto, Ontario, Canada officially turned on their citywide Wi-Fi — but it’ll cost you.
London’s network specifically covers the City of London, the smaller geographical area and major financial and commercial center inside Greater London. It’s also known as Square Mile, as that is its approximate area (and it’s easier than calling it “2.6 square kilometers”). The access comes courtesy of The Cloud. It will wholesale the network, making it open to other operators — those listed as supported service providers include O2, BT Openzone, iPass, Truphone and Skype. The network was developed by The Cloud and the local City of London Corporation.
Nokia is paying for anyone to get free access to the network for one month, but users must have a device with a browser so they can sign in. After the first month is over, the cost is £12 ($17.70) per month for unlimited access, if the user agrees to a 12-month contract. They can also pay £4.50 a day.
The big winner in these deployments is certainly BelAir Networks, which makes the mesh equipment used in both. For example, it has 127 nodes active in London, supposedly enough to give 350,000 people access.
In Toronto, BelAir’s equipment is part of the OneZone urban Wi-Fi network run by Toronto Hydro Telecom. It’s actually been in place for some time for testing, but as of April 24, users who were enjoying the free service have to pay ($29 CAN per month, $10 a day, or $5 an hour). Based on usage stats, OneZone thinks most of its users during the free trial were students and mobile workers. The network covers six square kilometers downtown — 235 blocks.
BelAir also is powering a new public safety network in Beaverton, Oregon, west of Portland. The network was installed by Invictus Networks; it gives 40 computer-equipped police cruisers access to the Portland Police Data System.
The launch in Square Mile coincides with new concerns raised in the U.K. regarding Wi-Fi’s effects on health. In particular, the chairman of Britain’s Health Protection Agency wants an investigation into how Wi-Fi impacts children; the PAT teacher’s union has requested the same type of investigation of the education secretary. This came after the Department for Education and Skills said it wanted to install more Wi-Fi in schools. The Health Protection Agency’s current stance is that “Wi-Fi devices are of very low power, much lower than mobile phones” — which were also found to have no clear link that affected children’s brains.