UK cableco Virgin Media is reportedly in negotiations with 30 cities across the country with regards to the possibility of rolling out free fibre-based Wi-Fi networks utilising small cell technology. According to Computer Weekly, which cites Duncan Watts, head of business development for fixed and wireless at Virgin Media Business, as many as ten cities could procure such Wi-Fi systems in 2013. It is believed that the 30 cities that are being focused on are those named as ‘super-connected’ by chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn statement.
Under the plans, Virgin Media Business aims to use existing broadband infrastructure to create the Wi-Fi networks by running cabling up poles or lamp posts and attaching small cells to the top, with one connected cell then able to mesh with up to five other cells in the area. In order to ensure that Virgin Media can generate enough revenue from the infrastructure to allow it to offer free-to-use connections in partnership with local authorities, it has been suggested that it could offer wholesale access to the UK’s four mobile network operators. While no deals have yet been struck with the cellcos, Virgin Media has reportedly moved forward with small cell deployment, with Leeds and Bradford cited as the first possible locations where the infrastructure could go live, while Edinburgh has also been mooted as another possible location for the first phase of deployments.