News & Insight

Could free, Europe-wide Wi-Fi be on the horizon?

Oliver Jones

Juncker's ambitious plan for state-funded Wi-Fi

The EU is planning a Europe-wide free public network, to ensure that every member of the public has Wi-Fi access at all times.

Known as the WiFi4EU initiative, this ambitious project aims to install free wireless internet in every urban centre, from village upwards, by 2020.

This was first announced last year, in Juncker’s “State of the Union” speech, but it’s since gotten a big boost with the European Commission’s €120 million provision to towns and cities all over Europe.

The new Wi-Fi will have a single authentication system, after which users will never have to sign in to the network again – they will stay signed into all the WiFi4EU hotspots unless they disconnect.

One version of Europe-wide Wi-Fi is already here

If that sounds fanciful, consider that the EU’s eduroam network, which is installed in every European academic institution, has been running since the early 2000s.

Funded by the European Commission, eduroam consists of over 6000 networked universities, schools and research centres – if your business works with academic institution, you’ve probably come across their service.

High profile venues using it include CERN and the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. And increasingly, it’s spilling over into hotels, restaurants and bars.

Keeping the EU together

It’s still unclear how the EU intends to bring all the regional varieties of free Wi-Fi under one umbrella (you’ll notice the Brussels vogue for centralisation is still going strong), but one thing seems clear: the EU is committed to state-funded Wi-Fi available to all.

Following quick on the heels of abolishing roaming charges, perhaps the EU’s commitment to connectivity is way of restoring faith in the pan-European project, after the fragmentary shocks of Brexit and the current Catalonia referendum controversy.