Virgin Media wins UK contract to provide free citywide Wi-Fi service

Virgin Media Business scored the first UK contract to provide free citywide coverage Wi-Fi services to the UK cities of Bradford and Leeds, the first cities to get the service outside London.

The deal, made under the UK government's plans to create a series of "super-connected" urban hubs, will see Virgin Media (via its corporate business unit) offering open Wi-Fi service to the 1.2 million residents of Bradford and Leeds, according to the Financial Times.

The government is looking to provide wireless network coverage to other UK cities, with telecoms providers being keen to secure service contracts without a need to acquire expensive spectrum--a ploy some analysts are labelling as a "Wi-Fi land grab."

State funding of around £150 million is being allocated to provide minimum download speeds of 80 Mbps across 10 cities.

Virgin Media Business will also be able to sell access to its Wi-Fi network to other mobile operators that want to boost their city centre coverage using small cells. In the case of Bradford and Leeds, Virgin Media Business plans to use enhanced Wi-Fi nodes positioned on lampposts and elsewhere in the cities, and linked to the company's UK-wide fibre network.

The Bradford and Leeds contract will require no state subsidy, with Virgin Media Business relying on advertising revenues and operators paying to use the network, according to the FT.

 "Small cells can transform the mobile experience by providing the connectivity needed to match the explosive broadband demand from the rapidly growing number of smartphones and tablets," Kevin Baughan, Virgin Media's director of wireless, said in a statement. "In Leeds and Bradford, we're working with both the local authorities and mobile operators to put in place the infrastructure that will give residents, consumers and businesses access to the wireless connectivity that they need."

The service is scheduled to go live in early 2013 and follows trials Virgin Media Business conducted during the summer of its small cell technology.

For more:
- see this Financial Times article (sub. req.)
- see this TechWeek:Europe article

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