London now has its first free metropolitan Wi-Fi network, continuing the gradual trend towards free public wireless access in Europe and the US.
The free-hotspot.com group and Wi-Fi network infrastructure firm MeshHopper have joined forces to offer free Wi-Fi access to businesses and the public along a 22km stretch of the River Thames.
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The free network, which has been branded as the “online-4-free.com” service, allows users free access provided they agree to view a 15 second to 30 second sponsor advertisement every 15 minutes.
Users get Wi-Fi access at a modest 256kbps. They can pay to get an ad-free service running at a faster 500kbps.
The free-hotspot.com company has set up 1,500 smaller networks in buildings and open spaces around Europe, but the Thames service is by far its biggest network.
The online-4-free.com service follows the recently launched free city-wide Wi-Fi network in Norwich, which is supported by the local council to help generate inward investment.
Paris is also building a free city-wide Wi-Fi network in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent and mobile operator SFR. This network will be offered to both citizens and visitors to the French capital.
BT has built a number of city-wide Wi-Fi networks up and down the UK in partnership with local councils, and the City of London has backed the building of a similar network for the financial community in partnership with operator The Cloud, but all these networks charge for access.
Some councils have been criticised for allowing operators to build such networks, using council street furniture to install Wi-Fi access points, simply for the kudos of having such a network, and not delivering any free Web access to their citizens.
An increasing number of US towns and cities are also now offering free or subsidised Wi-Fi access, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Raleigh in North Carolina, and Mountain View in California.
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