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After New York, gigabit public Wi-Fi comes to Berlin

Ask someone in Hanover, Germany, where to find the best public Wi-Fi and the answer may well be "In Berlin," 250 kilometers to the East.

That's because free gigabit Wi-Fi for Berliners was one of the first new services announced at the Cebit trade show in Hanover this week.

New York got its first taste of free gigabit Wi-Fi in January, when CityBridge turned on its first LinkNYC hotspots, which are gradually replacing payphones in the city.

In Berlin, it's not a billboard-advertising-funded startup that's delivering the service, but an established telecommunications operator.

That operator, Vodafone, runs one of Germany's three mobile networks -- and also has one million public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country, many of them piggybacked on the home routers it manages for its Internet access clients.

On Sunday, the company turned on gigabit public Wi-Fi hotspots at three locations in Berlin: restaurant Die Eins, near the German parliament building, Tiffanys Café on Ku-Damm, and at Allegretto Café near the Brandenburg Gate.

Download speeds could reach 1 Gbps if noone else is using the hotspot, while upload speeds could reach 600 Mbps.

Such dizzying speeds could one day become the norm for Wi-Fi in Germany, as Vodafone is intent on boosting bandwidth for its fixed-line customers. It says its cable network is already capable of delivering speeds of 200 Mbps to 25 million homes passed, although not all of those are customers. From April, it intends to begin raising the top speed to 400 Mbps, and for some lucky customers even to 1 Gbps by year-end.

In Berlin, Cisco Systems has supplied two of the base stations, while the third, near the Brandenburg Gate, is from AVM, which supplies the Fritz!Box cable and DSL modem-routers distributed by several German ISPs to their customers.

The LinkNYC hotspots generate revenue through video display advertising on two 55-inch LCD screens set into the sides of the kiosks. They are designed to be upgraded over the next few years as wireless and fiber technologies improve. 

There's no word yet on how Vodafone's Berlin hotspots will evolve -- or how they will generate revenue for the network operator.

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