EU’s €120m WiFi spend explained, but not excused

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Hervé Dupuy, deputy head of unit broadband at the European Commission, flew into London last week to attend the WiFi Now conference, and was greeted with a polarized mixture of fulsome praise and dramatic criticism.

As Dupuy outlined his plans to spend the first €20m by September 2017, after a rushed approval through the European Parliament, he was rounded on by analysts, telling him not to waste his money. In the face of comments such as ‘every muni-WiFi project ever launched has been switched off’ were greeted by equanimity by the unruffled Dupuy, and a desire to learn from the WiFi community.

The EC idea is to use a ‘first come first served’ model for projects with a series of vouchers to avoid municipalities using the money for something else. Dupuy told the audience: “It will be done on a first come first served basis, but with a country upper limit, so that it is shared equally across the EU.”

Dupuy also talked about the average spend per project being €20,000 for an access point, but said he would consult with the industry before putting that in concrete. The idea is to pay for the equipment and installation and running costs and maintenance for three years. The first round of funding would be used as a guideline for how the remaining two years of accelerated funding would be allocated.

Repeatedly operators have tried to block municipality efforts to install WiFi, with cities like Barcelona having to cap their service at 250Kbps, in order to get permission to offer city-wide WiFi, which is also used to drive its smart city initiatives.

Dupuy admitted that Spain was a problem, but he felt that a project there which offered full-flavored WiFi might convince Spanish regulators to do away with this limitation.

He added: “We will be collecting KPIs on how many connections, the connection QoS, and how much bandwidth is used, so that we can tell which projects have been the most successful.”

His presentation was focused on assuring operators that the initiative would offer no significant impact on competition, and there would be no duplication of any service or network which was already out there. This money is to put WiFi where it is not today. The cash will come with light procurement rules and he called the initiative WiFi4EU and suggested that the true beneficiaries would be libraries and health centers and the like. The 1,000 or so projects to be given the go ahead in the first year can just as likely be indoors as outdoors, he said.

He also pointed to a dream that once a device had accessed any part of this network, its credentials would be in place for accessing all of them, so there would be a need for a credentials standard and shared AAA servers. There is a queue of companies wanting to help the Commission with cloud-based performance data and authentication systems at the show.

However, the EC may fund 1,000 APs or projects, in a market that today has some 791,000 operator controlled hotspots, not counting the 69m homespots. So every 791 hotspots you visit may end up being funded by the Commission by the end of 2017. Not much need for a unified authentication system really.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.

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