Urban areas are often characterized by traffic congestions, dense settlements and municipal services that require substantial revamp and monitoring. What if these urban burdens could be eased through the innovative use of the Internet? More specifically through the use of public Wi-Fi. With well over half the world’s population owning a cellphone and over 7 billion Wi-Fi enabled devices to be shipped in the next three years, the potential of growing smarter cities and connected communities supported by public Wi-Fi is immense.
As the infrastructure to support larger loads of data emerges, cities are set to extend the dependence on Wi-Fi to more critical applications, such as municipal services. Governments and enterprises are set to team up to execute the necessary infrastructure. Take for example the creation of smart traffic grids that rely on real time user data to moderate traffic signal durations at busy intersections. Another application is power grid communication, where the monitoring and regulation of power flow between the plant and end user is automated. Here the grids communicate with each other using wireless technologies.
Public Wi-Fi can also provide vital support in disaster response efforts to communities with minimal resources. Using solar power to run the connection when power sources cease—on-the-spot organization, mass alerts and online volunteer systems can be up and running without delays.
Tel Aviv, New York and Taipei are a few cities that have already implemented public Wi-Fi as a way to increase the connectivity in public spaces. Always-on citizens now have instant access to diverse content and functionality, encouraging a spike in productivity and collaboration.
Growing connected communities also requires citizens to have equal access to information that is not withheld due to lack of internet connectivity. While private networks abound, many citizens such as students or the underserved, may not have the resources to set up a high speed network of their own. In light of this, connected municipal buildings are on the rise to combat what is being termed as the ‘digital divide’. In the UK alone, more than 1000 public buildings, including 21 public libraries, 7 art galleries and 9 shelters for the homeless, will see free Wi-Fi in the coming months under a new government scheme.
While setting up entirely new networks on a large scale can pose a challenge for enterprises and governments, the potential of leveraging existing private networks is now being tapped. Firms are turning home networks into public Wi-Fi hotspots or ‘homespots’, thus providing free access to subscribers in the area. ‘Homespots’ alone are expected to number 325 million by 2018 and will take public Wi-Fi into the suburbs, furthering public access.
The improvement of citizen services, the reduction of the digital divide and the overall rise in the livability quotient of a city illustrates how public Wi-Fi can form an integral part of the fabric of future cities. What are your thoughts on free Wi-Fi in public spaces? Leave your comments in the section below.