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UK first as free wi-fi rolled out in Newcastle and Gateshead

Newcastle and Gateshead are set to become two of the hottest spots in the UK after striking a deal to offer free wifi to residents, businesses and visitors

From left, Philip Brown from GOWEX North Europe, Mark Keenan from Real Wireless, Coun Nick Forbes and Coun Mick Henry

For San Francisco, New York and Paris now read Newcastle and Gateshead.

The two North East communities are set to become two of the hottest spots in the UK after striking a deal to offer free wifi to residents, businesses and visitors.

The provider is GOWEX which was selected after the contract went out to public tender.

The Madrid-based company has a long track record in creating wireless ‘smart cities’ across the world.

A phased programme of work will see 40% coverage available by August and the scheme completed by the end of the year.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “It will make us the first place in the UK to have freely accessible Wi-Fi in our city centres.

“It puts us on a par with places like San Francisco, Miami and New York in regard to public access and be a major attraction for visitors as well as providing residents with the ability to use social media on the move.”

He stressed it is not costing either Newcastle City Council or Gateshead Council a penny while it could actually earn them cash.

Coun Forbes said: “It is not costing tax payers a penny but will give huge benefits to visitors and residents alike.

“It shows Newcastle and Gateshead continue to be innovative in really tough times.”

GOWEX’s Chief Executive for North Europe, Philip Brown, attended the launch of the scheme at the Gateshead Millennium Bridge with Coun Forbes, Gateshead Council Leader Mick Henry and Mark Keenan of Real Wireless which helped decide which company the contract went to.

Mr Brown said work will include the building of around 300 “unobtrusive” Wi-Fi antennae around Newcastle and Gateshead.

“The antennae and equipment is a box about half the size of an average laptop which will be installed on existing street ‘furniture’.”

He said it will provide free 1MB access, enough to use social media feeds like Facebook, twitter and google searches.

“A premium service will also be available if people want 6MB per second for a modest registration fee of £8 a month.”

He added: “It puts Newcastle and Gateshead right up with the most connected cities in the world.”

Mr Brown added that not only will it not cost either council a penny, their staff will be used to help install and maintain the equipment while both will get a share of the revenue GOWEX generates through the system.

“It’s a win-win situation for them,” he said.

As a further benefit, people who sign up to the GOWEX-provided Wi-Fi will be able to connect free in other cities around the world where the company operates.

Councillor Henry said: “It’s a boost to both Gateshead and Newcastle and shows what can be achieved when we work together.”

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