“The most frequent request from tourists used to be a room with a view of the lake. Nowadays it’s Wi-Fi.” The place is Lake Como, a famous Italian beauty spot. It’s shaped like an upside-down Y, and Bellagio occupies one of the finest locations, on the headland where the lake’s two southern arms meet. Here, the tourist is king, and it’s here that Antonio and Silvia of the Bellagio Agency recently launched a free app about everything this “pearl of Lake Como” has to offer. And soon, thanks to ultra-wideband access, that offer will become even more attractive.
The tourist boom
Work ends in December on the project undertaken by Open Fiber to bring fiber optic technology to this community of 3,700 people who are joined by almost the same number of tourists during a very long season that extends from Easter to All Souls’ Day on November 1. Nine out of 10 are from outside Italy, with many from the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, including a large number of weekend visitors: Bellagio is only 70 km from Milan and 30 km from Switzerland. When visitors arrive the first thing they ask for is the Wi-Fi password.
“When we heard the news about the arrival of fiber optic infrastructure, I saw it as a victory,” says Luca Leoni, the local councillor for tourism, sport and public works. He is also a tourism expert, as he owns two hotels in Bellagio. “Traditionally, the client profile here is rather upmarket. Tourists tend to come from the English-speaking world, and they’re very demanding. 80 per cent of complaints are about the Wi-Fi network. We tried everything, including dish antennae, but the demand just keeps on growing. A family with two kids often has two or three devices online at the same time.”
Bellagio enjoys a wonderful climate, never too hot or too cold, and in the 19th and 20th centuries its neo-classical villas and luxurious hotels were prestigious tourist destinations with an exclusive clientele of musicians, writers and actors. The 1990s saw an explosion in the number of American visitors - many perhaps inspired to come by the newly opened Las Vegas hotel-casino, the “Bellagio,” whose lake and fountains create a smaller, brasher version of the picturesque Italian town.
Leoni goes on to say that “More and more tourists are arriving every year, and now Bellagio can offer a total of three to four thousand beds.” Petra Mainetti of Promo Bellagio explains that “Tourism has changed a great deal.” The classic type of visitor enjoying boat trips to the lakeside villas has been replaced by active, dynamic tourists with an “always on” lifestyle. “They no longer come here to ask about rooms at a hotel, they want information about hiking or mountain bike trails, where to rent canoes and kayaks, try out wakeboarding or kitesurfing, book a sailing trip, hire a motorboat or buy a ticket for the Jungle Raider Park”, says Mainetti, adding, “Wi-Fi is a top priority for all of them. It’s also necessary for making online bookings.”
The new season – with ultra-wideband
Next season tourists will already be able to use Wi-Fi hotspots with ultrafast connection in the public parks and along the lakeside promenade. Bellagio is one of 10 pilot locations in the Lombardy region forming the “phase zero” initiative. The Open Fiber project involves laying over 35 kilometres of fiber optic cable serving 4,239 connected residential units. 25 per cent of this will be newly constructed, while the other 75 per cent will make use of existing infrastructure, including aerial laying.
“The vision and collaboration of the local administrations is a key factor in the success of operations like these,” says Marco Martucci, Network and Operations Manager Northern Italy for Open Fiber.
“Excavations in preparation for laying the fiber optic cables are only the latest stage in a works schedule that started with preliminary planning, surveys, meetings with municipal technicians, drawing up the work project and obtaining the necessary authorisations and permits.”
Open Fiber is a wholesale system – the new network will be open to all operators, including local ones. “It’s opening up a new world, one that’s full of new opportunities. It will provide a decisive stimulus to competition in the telecommunications sector,” says Martucci. “Ultra-wideband will provide life-changing opportunities for everyone, and it’s also an important driver for development, for companies offering connection services and those that can invent and develop apps to meet users’ needs.”
Like the recently launched Bellagio Agency app, which can provide geo-referenced information on such everyday services as parking and pharmacies, as well as the many activities available on the lake at weekends and during the working week. “Ultra-wideband is crucial for us. We’d like to offer online booking for ferries and boat trips, and illustrate the various leisure activities available with exciting videos that at the moment take up too much bandwidth, and can’t be watched comfortably,” say Antonio and Silvia.
Buffering - no thanks! This tourist paradise can’t wait