Almost a year ago the ambitious project to cover the whole of Swindon with Wi-Fi was announced, and while roll-out is not complete packages ranging between free and £19.99 are available.
Wallingford in Oxfordshire is now joining this wireless revolution, which was officially launched on Friday 1st October. While the project is being described as free Wi-Fi, the fact a free three month subscription was part of the launch party, suggests that packages similar to Swindon may be the plan at some point in the future, i.e. limited free time or for 24/7 connectivity a subscription will be paid.
Henley on Thames also appears to have a Mayor who wants to get in on the Wi-Fi access game, citing the example of Swindon which will have spent around £700 on each of the 1400 Wi-Fi nodes. Henley on Thames has a much smaller population and footprint than Swindow, so should be a lot less than £1,000,000 to cover with Wi-Fi. With the money local authorities are spending on Wi-Fi it might be worth looking at what is available in terms of fibre partnerships. While full fibre roll-outs of Fibre to the Premises/Home (FTTP / FTTH) often headline at £1000 per property, this should be a one-off investment that lasts for many years, and has the potential to encourage businesses to move to an area.
Municipal Wi-Fi while not as fast as fibre projects has many advantages for residents and visitors to an area, particularly with the rise of Wi-Fi and ever more capable mobile phones, the danger is that just as with the original roll-out of ADSL and then unbundled networks is that the 'unlimited' party will last until such time as networks hit original design capacity.
Security of the network is an aspect often overlooked both for these public networks and people with Wi-Fi in the home. Wi-Fi in its open form is unencrypted, so if carrying out your banking or other transactions over an open Wi-Fi network your data is potentially visible. In theory if a website is using HTTPS (secure HTTP) then any crucial data should be encrypted, but even then not all data is encrypted, possibly leaving enough information over time to encourage identity theft. The best security is to use an encrypted VPN that you start as soon as you are signed onto the network. Additionally there are the issues of copyright infringement, which is why many open Wi-Fi networks now require you to be a registered user. Of course how truthful people are in terms of contact details when signing up is another issue.