A MOBILE internet provider is promising to transform wi-fi if it wins the contract to make Edinburgh a super-connected city.
Virgin Media Business, which installed wi-fi on the London Underground, is bidding to bring the free service to parks, public buildings and other heavily populated parts of the Capital. The competition, due to be launched early next year, comes after Edinburgh was awarded millions of pounds from Westminster to improve the broadband network across the Capital. The aim is to have more than 90 per cent of Edinburgh residents and businesses with access to high speed broadband by 2015.
Virgin wants to install “small cell” technology, which is three times the speed of 3G services, to allow remote access for residents and visitors to the city. Duncan Watts, head of business development at Virgin Media, said it would be “truly transformational” for people in Edinburgh.
He said: “People are going online more than ever and using smartphones, tablets and other connected gadgets to do so, often simultaneously, making superfast internet speeds increasingly important.
“When you want to look at a high-definition video or skype a friend, things tend to start to go wrong. The wireless network provides good coverage, but not great capacity. This is where the fibre network comes in.
“A lot of people like wi-fi and for it to be quick and in a place that’s convenient to them like if they’re shopping, at the train station or in one of Edinburgh’s parks. Mobile data demand will rise year after year and in order to deliver that, what you need is a fibre network.
“Luckily, Virgin Media owns the fibre network in Edinburgh. Our network provides as much bandwidth as you can get and download speeds which are three times faster than the average.”
The devices, which are shoe-box sized and can be mounted on lampposts, would be connected to Virgin Media’s fibre optic network, amplifying internet signals.
In busy areas where lots of people use wi-fi, the signal can drop or lessen, slowing down download speeds. These small cells amplify the available bandwidth, making the signal faster and more reliable.
Under the scheme, Virgin Media would pay the council to use its lampposts and other bases, and make its money by selling its service to other mobile networks.
Mr Watts said: “The reasons why mobile networks are interested is they need to provide a different level of capacity in the locations they need it the most. Virgin Media can provide the mobile network operations with the capacity they need and where they need it most.”
While parks are expected to be a priority, there are also plans to include the city’s so-called urban villages – Leith, Bruntsfield and Stockbridge – among others.
Business leaders argue that becoming a super-connected city will enable Edinburgh to compete with rivals for business. Edinburgh has at least 1780 wi-fi hotspots, but new devices such as the iPhone 5 and iPad channel large amounts of data which places demands on the network.