It is not uncommon for the European Union to bring modern technological ideas forward and make attempts to increase the welfare of its citizens. For example, the European Union brought in the right to be forgotten which essentially gives the right for an individual to have any electronic data about them on the internet to be completely removed and permanently deleted.
The EU also has CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) which created the Large Hadron Collider which was responsible for the detection of the Higgs boson. So it comes to no surprise that the EU want to push the idea of free Wi-Fi for all!
The Large Hadron Collider project, conducted by CERN. Image courtesy of CERN.
Because the internet has become so integral to modern life (email, video calls, etc.), access to the internet is considered by some to be a human right (also known as the Right to Internet Access). The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said during his address on September 14th:
“We propose today to equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020. Digital technologies and digital communications are permeating every aspect of life. All they require is access to high-speed internet. We need to be connected. Our economy needs it. People need it.”
Juncker has big plans for the technological future of the EU. Image courtesy of the European People's Party [CC BY 2.0].
For electronic engineers like ourselves, we know the importance of internet connection with the IoT on the rise. All manner of devices now require internet access whether it is a computer, security camera, sensor equipment, and probably (in the future) a microwave oven. So the idea of free Wi-Fi sounds amazing! But is it feasible?
As of now, most areas in public places are within Wi-Fi zones (albeit private networks in some cases). Many shops and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi but can have strings attached or require log-in information. So free Wi-Fi should be feasible right?
Well, just because public spaces are within a Wi-Fi network does not mean that the host wishes to share that signal (Wi-Fi traffic costs money!). The EU could directly pay for Wi-Fi traffic or install EU-purchased equipment to provide the coverage. Junker plans to provide €120 million euros ($133 million) for 28 member states. This equates to €4 million ($4.46 million) per state, which is not a lot to purchase and install such equipment.
So what about the roaming costs? Who will pay for the traffic? According to Juncker, this will be down to individual states so once the initial funding has been given to expand Wi-Fi coverage, those states will have to gather the funding for the continuation of free Wi-Fi. It is not unfair to say that this is a lot to ask for countries around the EU.
Read More : Juncker's WiFi4EU Factsheet
The goals are not just limited to free Wi-Fi. To acknowledge the growing importance of the internet, the European Union also wishes to meet the following goals by 2025:
- A minimum download speed of 100Mbps for all households
- Minimum download speeds of 1Gbps for hospitals and other administrative services
- Uninterrupted 5G access for roads and railways
Is free Wi-Fi and 5G access for all EU citizens too good to be true? Image courtesy of Pixabay.
This all sounds fine and dandy but can the EU actually deliver? Recall that the European Union said it would remove all roaming charges by 2017, a plan which is yet to be realized. The EU could pump the $4.46 million into individual states to only find that the resultant Wi-Fi is either unreliable or non-functional because of local state funding issues.
The Future Of Wi-Fi
With an ever-growing dependence on the internet, it comes as no surprise that access for all is an important and increasingly talked-about image. The EU's motivation for getting free Wi-Fi with no strings attached is a stride towards a more connected world for all. Even if Juncker's plan does not work immediately, the framework will still be in place. If the EU's economy becomes more stable and there is a stronger incentive to get free Wi-Fi to all, we may see it become a reality.