London has ambitions to become the wi-fi capital of the world by the 2012 Olympics with every lamp post and bus stop destined to become wireless hotspots, according to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson.
The bad news (for Boris, that is) is that Swindon got there ahead of London – it has just finished wi-fi-enabling a northern suburb called Highworth in a pilot exercise, which will be extended to the rest of the city in the coming months.
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Jobs for network cadre
The good news is that the pilot has already created many new jobs with the first tranche going to network experts and technicians. To date, a 30-strong army of network and software engineers has been hired for the pilot implementation and that will scale rapidly as the rest of Swindon is wirelessly enabled.
"The key people we need at this initial stage are network planners, engineers and also the software engineers to do the optimisation and configuration when there are problems with signal," reports Rikki Hunt, chief executive officer of Digital City, the company tasked with talking Swindon into a new digital era.
Some of the thornier tech problems that Digital City has had to solve include how to maintain signal around an undulating neighbourhood and how to turn old-fashioned lamp posts into hosts for wi-fi. “When they’re kitted out with a time switch rather than a solar sensor, then you get problems”, says Hunt.
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Developers cash in on wi-fi wave
Hunt outlines the opportunities for local IT jobseekers and the business community: the wi-fi city is already creating a second wave of jobs for the IT community as developers start to code and package applications to run over the network. "Some popular apps are already emerging, including a security webcam device, which can monitor private and business properties," he explains.
Additionally, a team of CRM experts currently maintains and tunes the back-office system. A third tier of jobs is expected to arrive soon in the shape of customising and managing wireless apps for the local business community. These jobs will be hoovered up by the local small and medium business tier.
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Hunt is upfront about the lesson learned in the innovative task of turning lamp posts into wireless hot spots and happy to share his knowledge with the London mayor. Project Wi-Fi London has signed up 22 London boroughs already for its scheme.
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