At the CityCamp digital inclusion event on Monday, Paul Colbran from the Council will be talking about their ideas for Metro Wi-fi. In advance of that, he sets out what it might mean for the city.
Metro wireless networks have been in existence in the UK for a number of years with varying degrees of success. Early deployment of town centre wireless networks was based on the delivery of public internet access via laptops with the user paying either a monthly, weekly or daily subscription.
This model was very prescriptive and in most cases was relatively unsuccessful. However as access to the internet via mobile handsets and PDAs increases justification for a privately funded metro wifi network has increasingly moved away from a chargeable subscription model for internet access towards a value added free service with revenue being derived from sponsorship, advertising and other digital services with additional charges only being levied for specific downloads such as games and music.
Despite this move away from a charged to a predominately free service there remains a major barrier for the private sector, how do you deploy a metro wide wifi network when you require numerous potential sites at street level.
To address this problem approaches have been made to local authorities to use council assets including street furniture to support the delivery of such a network. However such potential engagements have previously founded on out dated subscription based models or on the banks of a business case which has required the local authority to financially guarantee the sustainability of the network on the back of delivering public services. An approach which because of procurement processes and existing contracts has been almost impossible to realise.
- The User Experience – Why City Wireless?
In terms of the end user greater emphasis is now being placed on delivering free access to the end user through a variety of commercial models including unlimited free access to local information including tourism. Moreover beyond this user experience it is anticipated that multiple commercial services could be delivered to mobile handsets and digital screens all of which could generate a potential revenue stream including:
- Location Based Advertising – Retail/Cafes/Hotels/Tourist Attractions
- Sponsored Web Links
- Mobile Payments
- Mobile Vouchers – local retailers/restaurants
- E Tourism – Interactive tour guides
- Portal for Local Advertising -
- Community IPTV – Mobile Content
In this respect it is envisaged that by supporting the delivery of a digital platform Brighton and Hove City Council could perform the role of enabler in enabling and promoting the following:
- Visitor Experience: delivery of a digital experience to mobile handsets whilst visiting Brighton and Hove.
- Retail Experience: support the Brighton BID and the Business Forum -opportunity for retailers and other businesses to advertise, present promotions etc This commercial strategy would not be focused on the major retailers but would have a menu of commercial options which would suit all retail businesses in Brighton and Hove.
- Economic Development: support local Digital SME’s, attract inward investment
- Social and Economic Value: support moves towards channel shift and contribute towards addressing digital exclusion through the availability of free wifi connectivity.
2. The Opportunity for BHCC
Despite this previous background of limited private sector ambition and outmoded business models the increasing demand for more public space metro wifi in the United Kingdom and the emergence of new commercial offerings from leading telecommunication companies now offers a real opportunity for local authorities to embrace metro wifi opportunities by becoming the catalyst for deployment, not through investment or financial tenancy, but by providing access to your assets including street lighting through a concessionary agreement and in doing so:
- Develop a long term partnership through a public service concession which is excluded from the scope of the 2006 Public Contracts Regulation.
- Generate long term revenue through an annual rental and revenue share agreement.
- Enable the development of a digital platform to support business, retail, tourism and community engagement.
Therefore in the case of Brighton and Hove and subject to more detailed evaluation the opportunity exists through partnership to deliver a metro wifi network within Brighton and Hove which be driven by commercial opportunities from the private sector rather than reliance or even an expectation that the public sector will directly use this network to deliver council services.
3. Benefits and Commercial Value
In terms of benefits these can be defined in a number of ways some of which can be directly quantified in terms of potential revenue streams, whilst in other areas the creation of such a digital platform will deliver benefits which are less tangible in commercial terms but potentially will add value to the way public services are delivered, the way in which digital inclusion is addressed and local business benefits from improved broadband connectivity.
Business and Community Benefits:
- Support Economic Development and Regeneration with the consequent link to non-financial benefits: With an increasing need for modern and flexible infrastructure to support modern business the instigation of a Metro WiFi Strategy by the local authority will send a positive signal to business, attract inward investment and indirectly deliver a network which could support training, education and other council and community services.
- Tourism: By delivering a platform which would support retail and tourism and enhance the visitor’s experience to Brighton, this would enable BHCC to deliver a co-ordinated digital experience.
- Retail: As a key sub regional shopping centre the provision of a digital platform within the centre of Brighton would offer a unique selling point for retailers in with a view to attracting new visitors and increasing footfall.
- Catalyst to address Social and Digital Inclusion: Create a channel through which digitally excluded communities can start to be enabled (IPTV, Training and Education). Whilst difficult to quantify at this stage there is evidence to suggest that digital inclusion can start to have a financial benefit in terms of reducing social funding to support individuals and communities. In this respect this has become a key driver for local authorities in challenging and addressing the “digital divide”.
- An Enabler for Community Engagement: As the internet now constitutes such an important means of engagement at both a local community and local authority level, the availability of a network which will offer a degree of free access offers the opportunity for the effective delivery of local government information and a platform for sharing community related content. As more end users start using smartphones with a wi fi capability (projected 75% usage rate by 2014) this type of strategy will become increasingly relevant.
In terms of the recommendations detailed in this report these overall benefits are particularly reflected in the following areas:
Digital Wireless City
- Address social inclusion and community engagement through free access to a walled garden portal containing council content and information.
- Support inward investment with the development of local digital SME’s who could exploit the city centre digital platform (applications, software design)
- Support retailers in the city centre – promote Brighton as a digital destination. Deliver a platform for retailers to interact with consumers, advertise and promote via the web.
- Commercial opportunities through advertising – promoting attractions and events.
- Platform available for potential future use by the public sector in supporting the delivery of public services
From BHCCs perspective the direct commercial benefits can be generated from three direct channels one from a rental/concession fee, revenue share and thirdly from how the Council can exploit the digital platform through advertising and sponsorship.