Virgin Media Business is looking to sign further deals with local councils to bring cities online, after announcing Birmingham as its latest wireless partner.
The network will offer free and unlimited Wi-Fi to residents and visitors in prominent parts of the city, such as Moor Street, New Street and Victoria Square, from September. Birmingham follows Leeds and Bradford in accepting Virgin Media’s proposition after successful trials in Newcastle and Bristol took place last year. Free public Wi-Fi is an increasingly crowded marketplace, with The Cloud and O2 also offering the ability to jump online.
Speaking to Mobile, Virgin Media Business’s senior business development manager Bruce Girdlestone said: ‘A number of cities want to go through the same process as Birmingham and we are interested in all of them, although it’s quite sensitive to make any announcements before bids are made. Providing more capacity, more coverage and enabling people to actively access proper services is a good thing, and this is being recognised by a lot of city councils who believe in this initiative.
‘We’re very proud to have been chosen to rollout Wi-Fi in Birmingham. We have a very strong heritage in there. There’s a whole network infrastructure in the ground which allows us to provide a very high quality service there. It fits very well with our network, it fits very well with our relationship with Birmingham, and it also fits very well with our proposition.’
Small cell technology is a key part of Virgin’s plan to increase the speed of data and assist operators with coverage and capacity issues. The cells, described by the network as ‘miniature base stations’, will be integrated in street furniture around the city, such as lampposts, and will help operators pinpoint areas of poor coverage. Trials are taking place over the coming months with a full commercial launch due next year.
Girdlestone added: ‘We’ll be able to improve the quality of infrastructure within the Birmingham area to people who are using 3G and 4G services. Rolling out from 2014 these small cells will provide more quality to people’s devices. Small cells are where the industry is moving to.’
Although the initiative is still in its infancy, data collected after its December launch in Leeds showed promising signs. On average, more than 50 registrations to the network were made daily, while close to half a million (475,000) minutes of free internet access were used by March 2013.
Virgin Media Business might be actively looking for more city partners, but Girdlestone said it was unlikely that it would stretch the service to rural areas. He said: ‘For us it’s really about where there’s a large amount of demand and high concentration of footfall, and that’s in city centres. We do cover a very large amount of the population in the UK, but that’s because our network is concentrated where the population centres are. Rural areas are not such a great proposition.’
Author: Matthew Campelli