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BT's Backhaul Barter

BT offers free WiFi across Welsh city in return for access to 'street furniture' to deploy small cell backhaul links.

November 14, 2013

2 Min Read
BT's Backhaul Barter

BT has struck a smart deal with Cardiff Council that will see the telco gain access to the Welsh city's lamp posts and other "street furniture" in return for building and running a free WiFi service across the city center.

Along with many other places in the UK, Cardiff, which boasts 19 million visitors per year, wants to be a connected city to help boost commerce, leisure activities, and tourism, but doesn't have the resources to do it itself.

BT Group plc, already a major supplier of backhaul connectivity to UK mobile operators, wants to be able to extend its backhaul network closer to mobile broadband users onto structures such as street lights so that it can offer a more physically distributed wholesale service to mobile operators wanting to deploy small cells as part of their 4G rollouts (which most do). (See Vodafone Ups 'Project Spring' Capex to $11B+, Q&A: EE Evolves Its 4G LTE Strategy, and Euronews: BT Lands 10-Year Deal With O2.)

So BT is building out and running, for 10 years, a network that will provide free WiFi services for everyone initially (so clearly Cardiff Council plans to charge for access at some point). BT points out that its retail broadband customers will always have free access to the WiFi network.

In return, BT gets "exclusive access" to Cardiff's lamp posts and other street furniture. That seems like a very good deal for BT, while Cardiff Council gets its WiFi network without any hassle.

This could be a model that could well attract interest from other local authorities: Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED), as a key backhaul rival to BT, might want to consider its offers to UK city councils, especially as it is already experienced in building out and running public WiFi access networks in the UK. (See Euronews: Virgin Lands 4G Backhaul Deal, Virgin Lands City Wi-Fi Deals, EE, Vodafone Use Virgin's Subway Wi-Fi, and MBNL Backhauls With Virgin Media.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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