Norfolk residents get free wireless broadband for two years

The UK's largest community wireless broadband network went live in Norwich this week, offering free mobile Internet access for all until April 2008.

Norfolk Open Link is the 1.1 million brainchild of Norfolk County Council and is funded by the East of England Development Agency (EEDA). The project aims to use the two-year period to assess the impact and potential benefits of mobile technology for the local population including public sector workers and businesses.

"We are very excited about the possibilities that Norfolk Open Link presents for the county," said Patrick Hacon, chairman of Norfolk County Council.

"The pilot project will aim to harness the potential wireless technology can have in enhancing the delivery of our public services and stimulating business and private use of wireless technologies."

The network is comprised of more than 200 aerials, each with a radius of up to 300m, which are fixed to lamp posts. It was installed by public sector broadband services specialist Synetrix and covers most of Norfolk city centre, and areas to the east and the west of the city.

Within the Open Link area, users with a wireless-enabled laptop or personal digital assistant (PDA) can take advantage of an hour long session of free 256 kbs internet access.

"The aim is to understand if all public sector organisations - health, education, social services, police, fire service and public transport - can benefit from and improve their effectiveness by using wireless based technology. A series of practical projects will be developed to test this potential outcome."

The council will conduct an analysis of how the initiative went when the project concludes. It may decide to extend some of the public sector wireless services but as yet has not made a formal commitment to do so.