wifi in the stones

A few weeks ago I did a piece on Lynsey Dolan’s radio show about various initiatives to offer and improve wifi access in European cities. London introduced the smart rubbish-bin during the 2012 Olympics; these were clever, slick pieces of technology – trash can, LCD screen for news and advertisments and they also provided wifi hotspots. 

There were almost 200 of them installed on the streets of London. In Dublin the Temple Bar Cultural Trust are looking at upgrading the Solar Powered bins to include wifi – and to be ‘device-aware’ – so they can push local tourist and district information to smart devices; cultural info and proximity marketing opportunities for local businesses. Clever initiatives. 

The most interesting ‘urban infrastructure’ development I’ve seen recently is iPavement; a Spanish company who are building wifi into pavement slabs. Not only will the pavement slabs wifi hotspots provide wifi access, but the set-up comes with ‘ready to go’ apps, which the council or service provider can configure to provide useful features to passing pedestrians. For instance mucis, library books and coupons can be pushed to users in a localised way – think ‘Our city, Our Music’ or ‘Our City, Our Literature’ and you get access to complementary titles by local artists as you wander through San Sebastian. Coupon Offers from local shops are available in the coupon booklet-app. iPavement also has a briliant feature available via bluetooh – so the pavement on a specific street afflicted with icy footpaths can warn pedestrians to mind their step.

This is great technology – the sort of ideas and innovation that can improve our environment and make visiting or working in a city more rewarding. But it also fixes a couple of other issues. One, the need for local authorities to raise revenue. So the investment in technology is not just a capital expense for a city to improve its services – but it can raise revenue by improving the services it offers. Advertisements can be carried on the smart rubbish bins, retailers will pay for the Groupon style offers, and promoters will pay to target FaceBook users, who like Gaga and just happen to be in town today, as her tickets go on sale. Free wifi is hard to manage – so they should charge for the wifi, but municipal sort of pricing. When you arrive at an airport, what if you could sign-up for, let’s call it CitiFi, where you get wifi access in the city limits for 1, 5 or 30 days. For that, you get the wifi AND exclusive (i.e. first access by an hour or so) to the Groupon style offers while you’re in town. Adhoc wifi could be free, for 20 minutes. But the subscription service is the more useful thing here. With data from users, analysed in a private, cumulative way, councils can see where, and how visitors travel from airports or train-stations in to cities, where they go first, and where they congregate, helping to improve attractions, staffing and city infrastructure.

There are initiaties around the concept of Municpal Wireless Networks around the world, Asia, Europe & USA have good examples and there are city specific examples like Google wifi in Mountain View, Califormia. We could do with city authorities been the drivers, creating teh opportunity for revenue for the city and enhancing the profile of businesses and communities of artists, artisans and businesses. And what if I leave San Sebastian on my summer holidays, and fly to Barcelona? Can I power up my smart-phone and carry on where I stopeed yesterday? If there’s a smart pavement around – probably.

  1. iPavement Apps
  2. Municipal Wireless Network (Wikipedia)
  3. Google bring free wifi to NYC
  4. Manchester Council wifi initiative


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