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Free Wi-Fi in the EU

What you need to know about WiFi4EU, after it clears a major hurdle

By Dennis Jones


Earlier this week, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly (582 yays, 98 nays) to fund the largest expansion of free, public Wi-Fi hotspots in the European Union’s history.  Now that the project is officially going forward, let’s take a closer look at what WiFi4EU is all about.

What is WiFi4EU?

WiFi4EU is the EU project to bring free, public Wi-Fi to all of its citizens and travelers. It fits into the larger Digital Single Market Strategy, which is the EU’s longstanding attempt to bolster its data and digital economy, in part by overhauling the aging telecomm rules and infrastructure that hinder the effective supply of connectivity services throughout the bloc.

How does it work? How is it funded?

The EU has promised to subsidize WiFi4EU to the tune of 120 million euros (about $140 million). Those funds will be doled out to between 6,000 and 8,000 individual localities to set up Wi-Fi hotspots by 2020. If you’re counting, that’s about 15,000 euros (about $17,000) per locality for the development, deployment and long-term maintenance of Wi-Fi access points.

Who benefits most from the roll out of free Wi-Fi in the EU?

The EU is favoring locations that lack free, public connectivity services and hopes to distribute funding in a geographically-balanced manner. Once deployed, the hotspots themselves will be clustered in public areas, accessible to both residents and travelers.

Who can apply to build a Wi-Fi hotspot?

Only public sector actors can apply for Wi-Fi funding. Municipalities can, however, apply to expand their existing public networks to locations where they don’t currently deliver connectivity.

How safe will the hotspots be?

As planned, under this framework, free Wi-Fi in the EU will mean open, unsecured connectivity. Users will still have to demonstrate discretion when connecting, i.e., engaging their VPNs, assuming those hotspots don’t block encrypted connections.

Will the project spur wholesale growth in European Wi-Fi? In other words, what’s in it for businesses?

With the funding provided, results will most likely be limited. According to some insiders, the project can only conceivably deliver about two to four outdoor Wi-Fi access points per location. Hardly a mass deployment. So either the coverage will be limited or funding will need to be increased. Enterprises looking to this EU initiative to supplement their mobility strategies will have to look elsewhere for comprehensive, European-wide Wi-Fi coverage.