MORE than 116,000 people used free Wi-Fi service in the year following its installation in the centre of Bournemouth.

The people behind the free WiFi service project believe the popularity of the service is helping to promote the town around the world.

Of those 116,272 users, 42 per cent did not speak English as a first language. And many of those overseas visitors will have been sharing their experience of the resort via social media – something that would have been more difficult if they were footing the bill for data charges.

Local company Fusion WiFi installed the service in the town centre.

“We lose money on it,” operations director Paul Webster admits.

“We’ve done it in partnership with Bournemouth council as part of their digital challenge to make Bournemouth one of the leading digital cities in the country. It’s one of their key jobs sectors.

“It makes it easier for people in Bournemouth to go online using free WiFi service, find information they need when they’re out and about but also to share that experience of being in Bournemouth with their friends on social media – which is often a challenge for foreign visitors that come to the town because they’ve got data roaming charges that are very expensive.”

Activity on the free Wi-Fi peaked, predictably, in August, with 19,000 users. During the four days of the Bournemouth Air Festival, the network was used by more than 4,000 people.

There were 58 languages spoken by the users. The average age for the users was 28, with the oldest age given as 98 and the youngest 11.

Fusion WiFi managing director Adam Troman said: “We’ve been blown away by the sheer volume of people using the network. The data shows how much of a diverse town Bournemouth is and allows holiday makers to share their Bournemouth experience when they previously wouldn’t have been able to.”

Users are encouraged to access the service through their social media accounts. Those who are not on social media are asked to create an account with an email address.

Paul Webster said: “You commit yourself to some marketing from the council and some of their partners but that data doesn’t get sold on to any other companies. We feel that’s unethical.”

Those registering with an email address will receive information from the council or associated groups such as the Bournemouth Air Festival. “We don’t pass that information on to other people,” Mr Webster added.

The service offers speeds of up to 1 gigabit and is available in the Square, the gardens, the Triangle, the Pier Approach and around 500metres either side of the two piers.

Fusion, which has been trading only 18 months, intends to take the idea to other areas.

“Bournemouth has been very good to us. It’s genuinely nice to give something back,” said Mr Webster.

“We’ve proved it can work in Bournemouth, now we can take it to other cities and turn it into something more commercial for us.”