Big Ben
London welcomes a new free wireless internet zone in the city centre, due for completion by March 2012. Reuters

Millions of residents and visitors to central London are set to get access to Europe's largest free Wi-Fi zone.

The service, to be rolled out in 2012 across the boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, will be provided by UK phone operator O2.

The wireless internet will be powered by a system installed on street furniture and is expected to be particularly useful during the celebrations of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympic Games.

O2 said the deal would run at no cost to the councils or taxpayer and will allow visitors to "make the most of what London has to offer" and "have the best experience possible".

Installation of the wireless network will begin in Westminster in January, initially being available in limited areas before being rolled out across both boroughs.

Councillor Philippa Roe, cabinet member for strategic finance at Westminster City Council, said it was "a landmark achievement" for Westminster.

"Westminster welcomes over a million tourists a day, is home to 250,000 residents, employs over half a million people and sees 4,000 business starts-ups each year.

"Next summer's Olympic Games mean that London will be putting on the biggest show on earth and as Westminster has a starring role, visitors to London will easily be able to share their pictures and updates of the Olympic events across social networking sites."

The move will see London catch up with other cities who have adopted similar services.

Several hundred Wi-Fi zones offer free connections in public parks and municipal spaces in Paris.

New York also offers free Wi-Fi in parks and began installing wireless internet access at several of its subway stations in 2011.

London's wireless service will be powered by equipment attached to lamp-posts and other existing structures on London's streets. The system is expected to be fully completed by March.

Chief operating officer for O2, Derek McManus, said the deal was the first of its kind in the UK.

"It will see us deliver high quality connectivity across London in time for London 2012.

"Our longer-term aim is to expand our footprint of O2 Wi-Fi, which is open to everyone, and also intelligently enhance our services at street level, where people need the network the most."