Supercharged Wi-Fi to blanket all Amsterdam

A start-up has launched a Wi-Fi broadband service that costs less than a DSL or cable connection--and that it plans to extend citywide.

3 min read
Amsterdam's Web surfers could soon be liberated from their home computers and Internet cafes, as a start-up company plans to make their city the first European capital where laptops can hook up anywhere to the Web.

HotSpot Amsterdam launched a wireless computer network on Monday with a supercharged version of the Wi-Fi technology that is used to turn homes, airports, hotels and cafes into Web-connected "hot spots."

The first seven base stations are up and running, connecting historic areas that date back to the 13th century, and the entire city center will be covered by 40 to 60 antennas within three months, HotSpot Amsterdam founder Carl Harper said.

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That network would be able to support several thousand users, he said.

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"We'll go on to cover all of Amsterdam with 125 base stations. The idea is to prove to the big boys that it can be done and that consumers can live with a mobile phone and mobile Internet. The landline is dead," he said. Many computer makers build Wi-Fi chips and access cards into their products.

Mobile phone makers like Nokia have also started to add Wi-Fi to some of their handset models, allowing much faster Internet access than would be possible with the standard GPRS and UMTS connections offered by cell phone operators. HotSpot Amsterdam charges 4.95 euros ($5.98) a day or 14.95 euros a month for a connection of 256 kilobits per second--equivalent in price and speed to a low-end home broadband connection--while 24.95 euros a month will buy a connection twice that fast.

That undercuts fees charged by bigger suppliers such as Dutch telecommunications carrier KPN, which sells one hour of Wi-Fi access for 5 euros and one month for 30 euros. In addition, the dozen or so hotspots offered by KPN in Amsterdam have a range of just a few hundred meters each.

Supercharged hot spots
Although Wi-Fi hot spots have traditionally covered only a small area--a home, cafe, hotel room or reception area--technology companies are developing a more powerful version of the technology that works with fewer base stations and covers much larger areas.

In addition, radio base stations can now be linked to each other in a loop network, without separate connections to the Internet, making it much easier and cheaper to build a network.

HotSpot Amsterdam estimates it will invest around 200,000 euros (about $240,000) for the initial network covering Amsterdam's city center and a handful of surrounding areas.

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The company's founders said their service was cheap enough that residents could choose a Wi-Fi subscription in place of a fixed-line broadband connection from a cable TV company or from a provider of DSL (digital subscriber line) services, which run over normal copper phone lines.

"The users we're aiming at are expatriates, students and people who share accommodation. They need Internet access, but are not able to install fixed-line broadband, or they do not want it for the minimum period of a year," Harper said.

Other target groups include tourists and business travelers.

The Finnish town of Mantsala has an 11 square-kilometer Wi-Fi network, available to the public and schools, while New York plans to build a city-wide Wi-Fi network.

The Port of Amsterdam installed a Wi-Fi network three months ago, covering its 30 square kilometers, but that network is not for public use.

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