The humble lamp-post could soon become the key component in a high-bandwidth wireless network stretching the length and breadth of the UK. The Highways Agency needs a new voice and data network for its traffic control systems, because the present copper and fibre-optic network which runs along most of the country’s motorways is becoming overloaded.

The National Roads Telecommunications Services project was launched in order to find a suitable replacement, with the contract due to be awarded in autumn of this year. In addition to providing a suitable communications network for police control centres, cctv cameras, roadside equipment and so on, one of the other stated aims of the project is to is to make effective use of the networks spare capacity by allowing a private sector partner to develop a commercial service.

At present two consortiums are bidding for the contract, both using wireless technology developed by Exeter based Last Mile Communications (www.lastmilecoms.com). The company’s system uses wireless base stations capable of achieving massive data transfer rates of up to 400Mbps, with a range of around 250 meters. A national network of these base-stations fitted inside lamp-posts and other roadside equipment could be connected to the Internet via satellite or cable links, providing the potential to offer wireless Internet services to much of the UK.

Although the base stations would use proprietary wireless protocols to communicate with each other and transfer data for the Highways Agency, a standard commercial wireless technology such as WiFi would be used to provide data to users of any commercial service running over the network. Last Mile says it expects to see the network rolled out in 2005.

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