JUST OVER THREE years after turning off free Wi-Fi in Dublin city, officials are planning to reintroduce the service under an EU initiative – with a few caveats.
From 2013 to 2015, free internet access was provided at various hotspots in central locations throughout the city.
The service was offered to Dublin City Council by Spanish company Gowex, which filed for bankruptcy in mid-2014.
The local authority previously said that it was planning to get an alternate operator in place after the service eventually went down in December 2015, but it never did.
Two years ago, Dublin City Council started a market consultation process to look at the possibility of reintroducing Wi-Fi across the city.
The findings concluded that it “didn’t really stack up” for the local authority to invest in providing a citywide service, according to Dublin council smart cities director Jamie Cudden.
He told Fora that given the existing free Wi-Fi provided by private operators and business owners in central locations, the council wasn’t convinced “that it was a good investment from the city’s perspective”.
Instead, the council will use EU funding to roll out public internet access in various urban areas away from the city centre.
The council was last year awarded four ‘WiFi4EU’ vouchers collectively worth €60,000 under an EU initiative that promotes free internet access in public spaces like parks, squares and museums.
The funding, will be matched by the Department of Rural and Community Development, and is provided under the condition that services are up and running within 18 months of receiving the vouchers.
In the coming weeks, council officials will begin consulting with councillors to work out which areas are most in need of the service.
“I think it’s going to be a great benefit to areas that maybe don’t have access to Wi-Fi, as opposed to targeting city centre areas,” Cudden said.
The council will soon tender the contract to install and maintain the service for a three-year period.
Relying on restaurants
While free public Wi-Fi is “probably not as big an issue” for the local population, Graeme McQueen of Dublin Chamber said the provision of the service would benefit tourists.
For that reason, he said there is still merit in providing free public Wi-Fi in the city centre.
“It has to be a safe network, and if it is done right it’s potentially a good thing for Dublin; a sign that we’re a modern city,” he said.
McQueen also suggested that data produced through citywide Wi-Fi could be used “to find out more about the city, deciding how it’s going to evolve and change”.
“The consumer wouldn’t get the benefit, but planners and the city would get the benefit, and potentially businesses,” he said.
Separately, Jamie Cudden said that 5G services will be trialled in the city’s docklands area through a partnership between Dense Air Ireland and Trinity College’s Connect communications research unit.
“5G is really fast mobile internet. Some say might supersede Wi-Fi; we’re trying to figure out where it all fits,” he said of the fledgling technology.
The test network will be launched in the coming months and, if successful, the plan is to see how it could eventually be rolled out on a city-wide basis.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Department of Communications will provide matched funding for Wi-Fi in Dublin city. The funding will be provided through the Department of Rural and Community Development.