Summary:

The free Wi-Fi project could be a prelude to large-scale small cell rollout in one of Europe’s busiest financial and commercial centers.

The Olympics may be over, but U.K. mobile carrier O2 isn’t quite done with its project to bring free Wi-Fi access to London. The company is working with Ruckus Wireless to launch its second Wi-Fi hotzone in the U.K. capital, this one in Canary Wharf, a financial and commercial center that plays host to 100,000 people each business day.

O2’s first hotzone covered high-traffic areas in London’s high-tourism West End. It certainly wasn’t the biggest Wi-Fi project with only 100 access points (BT installed more than 1,500 access points in the city for the Olympics). But O2’s project has two notable distinctions: 1) Service is free to all comers, whether or not they are existing O2 subscribers and 2) The Wi-Fi network is serving as a blueprint for O2’s future small cells rollout.

Ruckus Zone Flex Wi-Fi access pointO2 is installing Ruckus access points that can be upgraded in the future to contain cellular radios, letting the carrier boost the capacity of its 3G and future LTE networks in the same highly trafficked areas where Wi-Fi is in the most demand. That makes the Canary Wharf deployment significant. The business district isn’t just dense, home to some of London’s biggest skyscrapers and employers, but the financial financiers that make up much of its workforce are just the type of subscribers to lean heavily on mobile data.

For now, the Canary Wharf deployment seems to be Wi-Fi only. Ruckus and O2 didn’t reveal exactly how many access points would make up the hotzone, but they did promise extensive coverage. Ruckus will install both indoor and outdoor access points in Canary Wharf public areas, including four shopping malls and 20 acres of public parks and plazas. The network will automatically connect registered users to the network, while new users must complete a one-time registration process.

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