Every laptop user knows the feeling. You're out and about and need to urgently check a Web site or send an e-mail, but you can't find a Wi-Fi network to log onto.
Berliners will soon be able to get online for free.
A 14-day test phase is being carried out this week and next to check that the technology doesn't have any adverse effects on the traffic lights, spokeswoman Brigitte Schmidt from Berlin's Economy Ministry told SPIEGEL ONLINE Thursday. It will be followed by a three-month pilot project at a date yet to be determined. "Different technologies will be tested out during the pilot project," Schmidt said, explaining that detailed technical information about the project will only be available once the pilot is complete.
The pilot scheme will provide free Wi-Fi access for two areas around some of the city's most famous streets: Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse in the center of the eastern half of the city, and Kurfürstendamm and Tauentzienstrasse in the heart of former West Berlin. If the first phase goes well, the aim is to extend coverage to all the districts of sprawling inner Berlin, an area of some 92 square kilometers (35.5 square miles). The ultimate goal of the initiative is to make Berlin more attractive as a place to live and work, especially for young people.
The project was launched three years ago by Berlin's city government, which is ruled by a coalition of the center-left Social Democrats and the far-left Left Party. However the plan, which is the joint responsibility of the Senate Department for Urban Development and the city's Economy Ministry, ran into difficulties because of disagreements over the technical details. Initially the wireless antennae were to be mounted on street lamps, but the urban development experts decided that such an arrangement was incompatible with the existing cityscape. An alternative proposal to mount the antennae on traffic signals got the green light, however.
Other cities around the world have experimented with similar schemes. California-based company MetroFi set up free wireless networks in several US cities, including Portland, Oregon and Sunnyvale, California. However those networks are reported to now be defunct, after the company failed to make money with its advertising-supported business model.