Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Town's wi-fi service switched on

Wireless internet
Users could pay for upgrades to get 20mb broadband speeds

The first phase of Swindon's free public wireless internet has been switched on in the north of the town.

Swindon Borough Council plans for all 186,000 citizens to have blanket "wi-fi mesh" coverage by April 2010.

The equipment, mounted on 21 lampposts in the Highworth area, will allow people to connect to the internet via laptops or portable devices.

Wireless internet allows computer users to access the internet without the need for wired connection to phone lines.

'Limited access'

Under the scheme basic line rental will be free and there will be no connection charge, say council officials.

Subscribers to the service - to be called Signal - will have limited access but could pay for 20mb upgrades.

The £1m project will be run by Digital City UK Ltd, in which Swindon Borough Council has a 35% share.

Digital City chief executive Rikki Hunt said: " People have done free wi-fi before, it happened in Norwich in 2006 as a test period.

"What we're doing is covering the whole borough, that's what unique, so it's not just free access in your home, you can actually move around the borough and still be connected."

Some 1,400 secure access points are to be fitted around Swindon, similar to those used in homes but with a much higher performance, it is claimed.

Free phone calls

If successful, there is an intention of working on similar roll-outs of the technology in other towns and cities across the UK.

The service will also have the potential to provide free internet phone-calls and remote medical consultations.

Other UK cities have had trials of the schemes, but this is the first time an entire town area will be covered by council-backed public wi-fi.

Experts will be available to answer questions at an open forum in Highworth library on Wednesday between 1700 and 1900 GMT.

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