VISITORS and residents are to benefit from free town centre WiFi in Penrith from next month thanks to a £27,000 investment.
The initiative is to be launched on 18th July at the Penrith on a Plate festival, and it means anyone with a mobile device which connects to WiFi, such as a mobile phone, tablet or laptop, will be able to surf the Internet for free by registering their details at www.discoverpenrith.co. uk. The aim is to provide a digital shop window for Penrith by putting information directly into the hands of mobile customers to help boost commerce and raise awareness of what is on offer.
Each user will get a two megabytes per second allowance for browsing on-line. No time limit has been put in place, unlike in some areas, because officials want people to “dwell longer”. Security controls will also be put in place to prevent misuse.
The landmark launch is one of the key objectives promised as part of the Penrith Business Improvement District (BID) and fulfils one of its four key words of promotion, professionalism, parking and pride. The BID came into effect in April 2013, and more than 400 businesses are on board.
Penrith BID has linked up with the Lowther-based high speed broadband provider LonsdaleNET to offer the service. Justin Wales, former general manager of the George Hotel and now project manager for Penrith BID, says the costs will be £27,000 in the first year.
This will cover infrastructure, one-off set-up items and charges, and then the ongoing cost will be around £5,000 every year.
He said: “Penrith businesses will be able to display themselves on a digital platform on any device with WiFi to help promote and market their businesses. It’s not just shops either but solicitors and banks.”
Mr. Wales, who runs his own company, said businesses were “very excited” to be embracing the digital era and that the free WiFi offer would be proactively promoted so that visitors and residents know it is there.
People accessing the “open WiFi” icon on their device will then be redirected to the website for a short sign-up process which involves providing their e-mail address, he explained.
To make it all work, in the week before the launch, a network of small access points will be placed discreetly on specific buildings and lampposts around the town centre in order to provide a constant stream of strong WiFi connectivity and prevent any loss of bandwidth, which which could stall or delay people using the free service to browse the Internet on their devices.
Linked to the main distribution point — a satellite dish on the roof of PFK in Devonshire Street — they will help create a cross-town network that people can access.
Initially, the area covered will be the traditional “entrance” to Penrith’s commercial area — Middlegate near the town hall and stretching to the bottom of King Street, as well as taking in Great Dockwray, Poets Walk, the New Squares development and the indoor Devonshire Arcade.
It will eventually grow to around 18 access points to create wider coverage. Planning permission is not required, said Mr. Wales, because the placement of the small 16cm by 8cm access points with their antennas is covered under existing aerials legislation.
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