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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 19:32 GMT 20:32 UK
Wireless web boost for Wales
Man using PDA device
Wales is taking strides in the technology stakes

A free wireless broadband network aiming to regenerate depressed industrial towns could establish Wales as a global internet leader.

Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies said on Tuesday the system would make Wales a frontrunner in the global emergence of "wi-fi" networks.

Andrew Davies
Andrew Davies: Backing measures

Mr Davies was speaking at the official unveiling of the Arwain project to 160 guests at Cardiff Bay Yacht Club.

Arwain gives net access to people by passing digital radio signals between computers using aerials.

The technology can enable users to surf the web at high speeds - from public parks, mountaintops, at sea - from remote areas or simply from indoors.

Organised by an eclectic band of geeks, artists and technologists, Arwain - Welsh for leading - has been operating under development in Cardiff since September 2001.

It is inspired by Colorado-based Welsh-American internet guru Dave Hughes' pioneering work in the field of 802.11b standard communications.

Liberated from cumbersome cables, the aim is to share and spread paid-for net access freely throughout the community - to anyone with a simple radio receiver plugged into their computer.

One of about 24 similar UK projects, Arwain fills the gap left by the sparse spread of phone companies' broadband offerings.

The ministerial presence marks its public coming-of-age.

This week, an antenna was installed on nature-rich Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel, for school pupils to watch the environment's wildlife from the comfort of class using a webcam.

Economic advantage

Arwain is now rolling out in Welsh digital blackspots like the south Wales valleys, where free broadband availability could encourage key employers to stay put.

"In the former coal-mining areas, broadband is absolutely fundamental in turning things around," Mr Davies told BBC News Online.


If we leave it to market forces, Wales will get left even further behind than we already are

Andrew Davies AM

"Wales really is a world leader in wireless technology.

"In future years, we will say this was a historic moment in establishing broadband communications throughout wales."

The event had an added poignancy, with Mr Davies speaking on the shores of Penarth, from where radio pioneer Marconi sent some of the first-ever analogue radio signals in 1897.

In July, Mr Davies announced the Welsh Assembly's 100m Broadband Wales programme to subsidise the cost of satellite, ADSL and wireless internet access for 67,000 businesses and 310,000 domestic customers.

He is forced to find public money for broadband services in regions telecom companies say are not commercially viable enough to justify their expenditure.

Tellingly, he repeated that message on Tuesday: "If we leave it to market forces, Wales will get left even further behind than we already are."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
John Wilson, Arwain
"Wireless is digital radio technology"
Evan Jones, Arwain
"You can work online on the move"

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See also:

11 Jul 02 | Wales
16 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
08 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
22 Aug 02 | Technology
25 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
11 Mar 02 | dot life
18 Mar 02 | dot life
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