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London to become Europe's largest Wi-Fi hotspot

London is to become the official home of the largest free Wi-Fi hotspot in Europe, following a landmark deal between Westminster City Council, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and mobile giant O2.

The deal, which O2 claims will run at no cost to the councils or - crucially - the taxpayer, will see free access given to residents and visitors to Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea through a new wireless network infrastructure dubbed 'Metro' and based on hardware wired in to street lights.

"This groundbreaking deal - the first of its kind in the UK - will see us deliver high quality connectivity across London in time for London 2012," crowed O2's chief operating officer Derek McManus of the agreement. "Our longer-term aim is to expand our footprint of O2 Wifi, which is open to everyone, and also intelligently enhance our services at street level, where people need the network the most."

"This is a landmark achievement for Westminster," added Cllr Philippa Roe, of Westminster City Council. "Westminster welcomes over a million tourists a day, is home to 250,000 residents, employs over half a million people and sees 4,000 business starts-ups each year. Next summer's Olympic Games mean that London will be putting on the biggest show on earth and as Westminster has a starring role, visitors to London will easily be able to share their pictures and updates of the Olympic events across social networking sites."

The network infrastructure for the free Wi-Fi access zone will is being rolled out in what O2 describes as a 'limited number of areas' starting this month, to be followed by a full-scale deployment ahead. Despite looking to the 2012 Olympic Games as a target, O2 has yet to commit to a firm schedule for having the full network operational.

The deal is part of O2 Wifi, a business venture launched in January 2011 which aims to push O2's network concerns by offering free Wi-Fi connectivity through strategic partnerships with businesses and councils across the UK.

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