Baltic capitals duel for European WiFi crown

July 9, 2014
A view of Riga from the top of St. Peters church on May 11, 2006

The Estonian tech-hub city of Tallinn has long laid claim to the title of WiFi capital of Europe - but now it has a challenger.

A Baltic rival has emerged in Latvia, whose capital Riga launched a war of words this week as it seeks to overtake its neighbour in all things Internet.

City authorities teamed up with Latvia's state-owned Lattelecom telecoms company to buy billboards leading into Riga with the words "European capital of Wifi" cheekily emblazoned across the front.

Statements from city hall followed, pointing out that Riga has one free Wifi zone for every 750 residents, compared to one for every 1,263 in Tallinn.

At the unveiling of the billboards, Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs crowed that his city has "surpassed other European cities in free WiFi coverage".

Lattelecom CEO Juris Gulbis hailed Latvia as an emerging European "WiFi superpower" for the 4,000 free points dotted across the country of two million.

While the sheer numbers of free WiFi points in European metropolises like London or Paris dwarf those in both Baltic capitals, Riga now claims to trump the rest—especially its northern neighbour—on a per capita basis.

Officials in the Estonian capital are not amused.

After all, their city gave birth to Skype, hosts NATO's elite cyber-defence centre and claims to offer the highest number of public e-services on the planet.

Vaino Olev, Tallinn City Council's head of IT services leapt to defend his city's high tech credentials.

In a subtle dig at Riga's supposed modernity, Olev also suggested that free WiFi is actually yesterday's news.

"This sounds more like Riga has set an ambitious goal for itself," he told AFP.

"Due to the booming popularity of smart devices among residents, the number of WiFi areas in Tallinn has stabilised rather than increased - interest in public free WiFi has diminished," he said.

"This, of course, is mainly due to the local mobile phone operators offering low prices on smart phone packages. The main WiFi users in Tallinn now are tourists," Olev said.

Estonia, with its population of just 1.3 million people, has made a name for itself for being a trailblazer in technology and notably pioneered e-voting in 2005.

After five decades of Soviet rule ended in 1991, Estonia opted to use existing computer engineering facilities to go hi-tech as quickly as possible.

It earned the nickname "E-stonia" as it outstripped most other members of the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

Officials in Latvia have watched Estonia's success closely, and have responded by investing heavily in infrastructure in a bid to spur growth.

Explore further: US intelligence to set up cyber-focused office in Estonia

Related Stories

Seoul to offer free wifi in public areas

June 15, 2011

The South Korean metropolis of Seoul said on Wednesday it would offer free wifi in outdoor spaces in a $44 million project to give residents and visitors Internet access on every street corner.

NATO launches exercise to beef up cyber defence

March 26, 2012

NATO's Tallinn-based cyber defence centre on Monday launched a three-day exercise involving European IT and legal experts in a bid to beef up cyber defence skills through gaming.

Free ticket to ride in Estonia capital

January 28, 2013

Tallinn is the first EU capital to offer its residents free public transport, and though the move aimed at driving down car pollution is proving popular, visitors feel let down and others are accusing City Hall of a campaign ...

Recommended for you

Inferring urban travel patterns from cellphone data

August 29, 2016

In making decisions about infrastructure development and resource allocation, city planners rely on models of how people move through their cities, on foot, in cars, and on public transportation. Those models are largely ...

How machine learning can help with voice disorders

August 29, 2016

There's no human instinct more basic than speech, and yet, for many people, talking can be taxing. 1 in 14 working-age Americans suffer from voice disorders that are often associated with abnormal vocal behaviors - some of ...

Apple issues update after cyber weapon captured

August 26, 2016

Apple iPhone owners on Friday were urged to install a quickly released security update after a sophisticated attack on an Emirati dissident exposed vulnerabilities targeted by cyber arms dealers.

Auto, aerospace industries warm to 3D printing

August 25, 2016

New 3D printing technology unveiled this week sharply increases the size of objects that can be produced, offering new possibilities to remake manufacturing in the auto, aerospace and other major industries.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.