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Lampposts to provide location-based services?

British company wants to use lampposts to create a wireless broadband network that would support location-based services.

In what sounds like a tale from the heady days of the dot-com boom, a British company plans to roll out high-speed wireless networks and location-based services using street lampposts.

Last Mile Communications says the humble lamppost can be used to provide broadband Internet access and also to store useful information about their location.

On Tuesday, Last Mile announced that it will work with security company Qinetiq to commercialize its plans. Trials are scheduled for later this year at an undisclosed location, and Last Mile said it is confident that its service can be rolled out on a large scale.

While Last Mile's service would turn lampposts into wireless access points to provide access to the Internet, the company is thinking beyond just connectivity. It is planning to install flash memory inside the lampposts and store information about local pubs, coffee shops and retail outlets.

According to Barry Shrier, Last Mile's sales and marketing director, people who run an application called the MagicBook on a mobile device will be able to connect to their nearest enabled lamppost and access the information stored on it.

Last Mile is also hoping to win backing from emergency services agencies. For example, the precise layout of buildings could be stored on a lamppost and be accessible by firefighters in an emergency.

Ian Fogg, broadband and personal technology analyst at Jupiter Research Europe, said that Last Mile will need the support of the public sector if it is to succeed.

"The idea of a local wireless network that emergency services, local utility companies and local government officials can use generally for day-to-day activities is a common one that is used in many places around the world," Fogg said.

Last Mile cites as a strength its lack of reliance on other telecommunications infrastructure such as local telephone exchanges, which means it could keep working in the event of widespread network failure. Furthermore, Shrier believes that companies can be persuaded to store their information on lampposts, paying Last Mile when someone accesses their data using the MagicBook.

"Say you operate a petrol station....The results of Last Mile's proposition, developed in partnership with Qinetiq, would allow you to communicate instantly, quickly and very cheaply with motorists who need petrol and are near you," Shrier said. "This is a profound advance in how the Internet works, and the benefits it provides."

But Last Mile's business plan could be threatened by other location-based services that are being developed and by the proliferation of Wi-Fi hot spots.

"3G manufacturers are building location-based functionality into handsets and base-stations today," Fogg said. "There are also a tremendous number of Wi-Fi hot spots in place already, for which the demand is relatively weak."

According to Shrier, it would cost around 500 pounds--$933--to upgrade one lamppost to offer Last Mile's service.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.