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Shoppers and businesses have been handed a major digital boost after free wi-fi was rolled out across Norwich city centre.

The £100,000 investment has transformed some of key shopping areas into internet hot spots, with Gentleman’s Walk, Norwich Market, Exchange Street, Chapelfield Gardens and Surrey Street all benefitting from the free service.

Spearheaded by the Norwich Business Improvement District, the connection will offer download speeds of 5Mbps and will be expanded to the rest of the Norwich Lanes and other areas close to the city centre in the coming months.

Retailers and digital businesses said the move could boost sales both in-store and online by giving shoppers – who use their smartphones to buy online while shopping on the high street – a faster connection speed. It comes after a £1.1m pilot project created by the East of England Development Agency brought free wi-fi to the city in 2006, but it was shut down once the trial period ended.

Leaders behind the latest scheme said advances in meant the new wi-fi connection would offer a faster and more effective service, helping “to put Norwich on the map as a technology leading city.”

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich BID, said: “Our free city centre wi-fi scheme puts Norwich at the forefront of technology and provides real value for social media users and the business community. With the technology lifestyles that we all lead, it is now an expectation that a city has wi-fi.

“With Norwich’s reputation as a Tech Nation City it’s vital that we invest in the infrastructure which embraces growth of digital technology for the benefit of visitors and businesses. The city centre free wi-fi will further help put Norwich on the map as a technology leading city, and a more connected place to visit, work and live.”

The switch-on of the service came after months of planning by the Norwich BID and Norwich City Council, while businesses and Norwich BID members were also consulted.

It was installed by MLL Telecom, which fitted 25 wi-fi points on buildings in Norwich, with a further eight masts still to be put in place.

The Norwich BID has funded the project through an annual 1pc levy on the rateable value of business premises over £15,000 within the BID area. It plans to raise £3m over its five year term.

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