UK mobile phone network O2 has signed a deal that will see free WiFi rolled out across two key areas in London, in what it’s calling “the largest free wireless hub in Europe”.

O2 has signed deals with Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, giving residents and visitors to the area free WiFi Internet access on their mobile phones, laptops and tablets in what is being touted as a landmark deal.

The operator says the programme will run at no cost to the councils or taxpayers. The initiative underpins part of both councils’ plans to enhance the city’s digital reputation, and so that the millions of visitors have the best possible experience. The deal is particularly timely given that 2012 sees the city celebrate two major events – the Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. However, the deal isn’t a temporary one for the tourists, and will offer longer-term benefits to businesses and individuals alike.

The free WiFi will be available across Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea once the Metro wireless network is installed on the streets, and it will initially be rolled out in a limited number of areas before eventually arriving everywhere across the boroughs. O2 will begin installing the network this month.

O2 WiFi launched in January 2011 with the ambition to roll out free, fast and open WiFi, via strategic partnerships across the UK. We said at the time:

“…the operator wants to differ from its rivals by offering what it calls the first ‘truly free, public Wi-Fi platform’ in the UK, making it accessible to both its customers and any other person who wishes to use it.”

“This is a landmark achievement for Westminster; Westminster welcomes over a million tourists a day, is home to 250,000 residents, employs over half a million people and sees 4,000 business starts-ups each year,” says Cllr Philippa Roe, Cabinet Member for Strategic Finance at Westminster City Council. “Next summer’s Olympic Games mean that London will be putting on the biggest show on earth and as Westminster has a starring role, visitors to London will easily be able to share their pictures and updates of the Olympic events across social networking sites.”

Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, added: “I am very pleased that we have been able to come to this agreement and we look forward to working with O2.  Residents and visitors having free access to the latest mobile technology will help us to continue to offer value for money for residents.”

This is a major development for London, and is indicative of what the UK will hopefully start seeing across the board in the years that follow – fast, ubiquitous, public WiFi Internet access.

“This ground-breaking deal – the first of its kind in the UK – will see us deliver high quality connectivity across London in time for London 2012,” says Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer for O2. “Our longer-term aim is to expand our footprint of O2 Wifi, which is open to everyone, and also intelligently enhance our services at street level, where people need the network the most.”