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EC plans to introduce free public wi-fi

EU wifi

​Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission (EC), has announced in his State of the Union Address 2016 plans to provide free wi-fi to all public spaces in the EU. The president also wants to deploy 5G mobile internet across the EU by 2025.

During his speech, delivered in Strasbourg, President Juncker said: "We need to work for a Europe that empowers our citizens and our economy. And today, both have gone digital.

Digital technologies and digital communications are permeating every aspect of life. All they require is access to high-speed internet. We need to be connected. Our economy needs it."

The full extent of President Juncker's plan is to provide free wi-fi to at least 6,000 communities around the EU by 2020. Public administrations, hospitals, libraries and other bodies with a public mission will all be provided with vouchers to fund the cost of purchasing and installing the equipment needed to provide free internet to citizens
However, critics have pointed out that the EC has only allocated €120 million to the task. Talking to the BBC, Mark Newman - chief analyst at telecoms consultancy ConnectivityX -  said that this figure "doesn't sound like a huge amount of investment".

Local councils will also have to pay for the free wi-fi's monthly subscription and maintenance costs, which could easily add up to a higher amount than the cost of installation that the EC is willing to fund. Mr Newman told the BBC: "In many towns and cities, people can already find free wi-fi on the High Street. I would question whether frugal councils will really see it as a priority to deliver free wi-fi in all their buildings and squares."

The second aspect of the EC plan laid out by President Juncker is to fully deploy the fifth generation of mobile communications and internet - known as 5G - across the EU by 2025. President Juncker also wants at least one city in each EU country to have a 5G network in effect by 2020.

This latter part of the plan could be unrealistic. Mr Newman said that 5G will not be ready until at least 2018, and it could take another year for any licenses to be allocated. This makes it unlikely that anywhere other than highly-targeted, busy areas would have access to 5G before 2020.

However, the principles behind this plan are promising. President Juncker wants to make the EU more connected and therefore an easier place for businesses to operate, particularly as more of them move to the digital sphere.