Brussels to provide city-wide Wi-Fi access

Brussels (Belgium) plans to deploy 20 hotspots in the coming months as part of a larger project to bring Wi-Fi access to the entire city, according to Daniel Ducarme, minister-president of the Brussels Capital region. Mr. Ducarme made the announcement at a press conference in Lyon (France) at the World Summit of Cities and Local Authorities on the Information SocietyBrussels (Belgium) plans to deploy 20 hotspots in the coming months as part of a larger project to bring Wi-Fi access to the entire city, according to Daniel Ducarme, minister-president of the Brussels Capital region. Mr. Ducarme made the announcement at a press conference in Lyon (France) at the World Summit of Cities and Local Authorities on the Information Society (December 4 and 5). The Centre Informatique R?©gional Bruxellois (CIRB) is in charge of the project. They plan to offer free access in the beginning and perhaps to charge for it later.

There are two very interesting trends here. One is the municipality-as-wireless ISP; the other is “free access” and its effect upon wireless ISPs that charge for Wi-Fi access such as Swisscom Eurospot and T-Mobile.

Let’s start with the first trend. Brussels is positioning itself as a provider of high-speed wireless Internet access to residents and businesses. Although many cities and towns around Europe claim that they have no plans to act as wireless ISPs, others are tired of waiting for the incumbent telco operators, cable providers and Internet ISPs to deliver fast wireless access at reasonable prices and are taking on the task themselves. With wireless equipment (especially mesh networking hardwre) dropping fast, they have begun to realize that setting up a municipal-wide wireless network is prohibitively expensive or complicated. Indeed, as more cities and towns in Europe embark on wireless projects, it also becomes easier to find experienced consultants and hardware vendors.

Brussels is not one of those municipalities with poor cable and DSL service, but like many other major cities in Europe, it is putting pressure on the current broadband providers to increase data throughput and lower prices. I expect other cities and towns in Europe to launch similar projects (Hamburg already has Hotspot Hamburg).

The second trend is disturbing but only if you are a wireless ISP who has the nerve to charge ridiculous fees for Wi-Fi access. What happens if you are sitting in a hotel in the center of Brussels about to fork over ‚Äö?ᬮ29.95 per day for Swisscom Eurospot access and suddenly you realize that you can get free access provided to you by the city?

Last week T-Mobile announced that it is acquiring MetroNet, Austria’s largest wireless ISP. T-Mobile Austria charges ‚Äö?ᬮ7.95 per hour, ‚Äö?ᬮ15.95 for three hours, or ‚Äö?ᬮ24.95 for 24 hours. These rates are much higher than those charged by T-Mobile in the US. I’d say T-Mobile has NO business model at all if more cities and locations give away Wi-Fi access.

To read the article on the Brussels Wi-Fi project, click here. It is in French so drag out that dictionary or get online translation help.

To read about T-Mobile’s acquisition of Metronet, click here. This time it’s in German (sorry folks but not everyone puts out press releases in English), so if your German is better than your French, you won’t need a dictionary to read this.