Italy eyes Wi-Fi to close broadband gap

Italy's government will be asked to consider establishing a nationwide €5 million ($6.3 million) public Wi-Fi network considered essential to close broadband coverage gaps relative to neighbouring European countries.

Lawmakers in Italy last week put forward plans for the network, which would rely on free access being offered by shops, airports and taxis and in public spaces, Reuters reported. The proposals would be worked up into a full bill to be presented to Italy's parliament by mid-2015, with construction due to take place over a three-year period, the news agency added.

One backer of the plan told Reuters the network would aid recovery in Italy's economy, in particular by boosting the tourism industry.

The planned network would also help the country address a gap in broadband penetration relative to neighbouring countries. Less than 1 per cent of citizens can access services with at least 30-Mbps data rates, compared to an average of 6 per cent throughout Europe, Reuters reported citing research by students at the Politecnico University in Milan.

An existing public Wi-Fi network in Florence was ranked as one of the world's best by the Telegraph in April--one of only two European cities to make the list of nine.

If Italy's government presses ahead with the plan, the network would be one of the first in Europe to have state backing. Elsewhere, most attempts to offer national Wi-Fi access tend to be operator-led and form part of a growing trend towards converged services.

In the UK, for example, BT plans to use its existing Wi-Fi network alongside femtocells and leased cellular access for a mobile service it intends to launch in 2015. The operator has already launched mobile plans that offer free access to its five million Wi-Fi hotspots.

Operators are increasingly interested in using Wi-Fi to handle mobile calls made from subscribers' homes, and also to offload cellular traffic when users are out and about. Proponents of Wi-Fi offload argue that all hotspots--private and public--should be utilised in mobile services.

For more:
- see this Reuters report
- view the Telegraph's Wi-Fi article

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