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U.K. cities to get blanket Wi-Fi coverage

European wireless provider The Cloud will bring wireless broadband access to residents in nine cities.

The United Kingdom has unveiled plans for citywide Wi-Fi networks that will give residents in nine cities high-speed wireless Internet access from laptops, PDAs and mobile phones.

The first phase of the project, due to be completed by March 2006, will see citywide Wi-Fi hot spots rolled out in Birmingham, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford, along with the London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and Islington.

The networks are being built by European wireless provider The Cloud. They will be open to any Internet service provider that wants to offer services. Blanket wireless coverage will be provided in the cities through Wi-Fi equipment fitted on lampposts and street signs.

People who want to use the wireless network will pay one of the ISPs for access, and revenues will be split between The Cloud, the local council and the ISPs.

Wi-Fi coverage for more cities is expected to be announced later this year. George Polk, CEO of The Cloud, said the aim is to provide wireless coverage across all U.K. cities and major centers of population.

"Providing ubiquitous wireless broadband access over a network that is available to millions of Wi-Fi devices...will have a major impact on the way people communicate, work and play in city centers," Polk said in a statement.

The initiative has been backed by Derek Wyatt, head of the U.K.'s All Party Internet Group.

"Such a large-scale project is an exciting prospect for communications in the U.K., allowing people to send e-mails, make cheap phone calls, surf the Internet, do business and even play games online, wherever they are," Wyatt said.

Andy McCue of reported from London.