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Watford Borough Council has rolled out the first phase of an open and public Wi-Fi network with the launch of service-covered sheltered housing schemes and community centres across the town.
The council said that the network, which is being delivered by intechnologyWiFi at no cost to taxpayers, will help the Watford Community Housing Trust (WCHT) meet its social inclusion goals and the demands of its residents, around 80% of whom have been calling for more online services.
“Helping local residents to get online is important to us. As well as making it quicker and easier to access services, it can also help people to get more involved with what is going on in their local area,” said WCHT chief executive Tina Barnard.
The council hopes that the network will ultimately offer seamless, always-on connectivity for mobile users around the town, with no cost or bandwidth limitations.
It is beginning work on the second phase, which is planned to cover the town centre bounded by the A411 ring road, as well as the Watford FC ground and a planned extension to Transport for London’s Metropolitan line.
IntechnologyWiFi is also developing a dedicated mobile app for Watford Council, which will act as a hub resource for residents and visitors, as well as promote local businesses and services.
The supplier said it would also support Watford’s transition towards a smart city infrastructure and help the town benefit from applications arising from the internet of things (IoT), utilising a robust Wi-Fi network to deliver services such as road traffic management and public transport information, for example.
“City planners are increasingly looking to free, public Wi-Fi providers to support them in achieving seamless connectivity, whether they mean to ensure that no member of the community faces digital exclusion, or are looking to further smart city initiatives to improve safety and the environment, manage traffic effectively and support the local economy,” said intechnologyWiFi CEO Natalie Duffield.
A recent report produced by the Wireless Broadband Alliance found that more and more local authorities were embarking on a similar journey to that being undertaken in Watford.
However, it said, many local governments were challenged when deploying city-wide public wireless networks because they could not always justify the value of such a service based on benefits and potential revenues.
A lack of technical expertise in city councils, the vast array of choice when it comes to providers and the costs of establishing and operating the service were also found to be holding some back, while others said they did not want to disappoint the public’s heightened expectations of what the network could provide for them.