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Yorkshire’s Cybermoor Goes WiMAX

Community wireless network uses Proxim-based equipment to avoid Wi-Fi interference and boost sustainability and the local economy

 A pioneering wireless broadband project in rural Yorkshire has replaced its seven-year-old Wi-Fi network with WiMAX, and now plans to increase its data rates from 2Mbit/s to 12Mbit/s.

The Cybermoor community network is already boosting the local economy and helping make the relatively remote community of Alston Moor sustainable, said Daniel Heery, Cybermoor’s project manager.

As well as enabling residents to run global businesses without having to move into town, the broadband service enables schoolchildren to study from home if snow closes the school, he said, while video links from the local minor injuries unit reduce the need for patients to make the 30-mile trip to the nearest large hospital.

The network connects Alston Moor and two outlying villages in a triangle approximately five miles each side. Heery said the sites had been connected via a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi backbone, but as more and more people acquired Wi-Fi routers of their own, interference had been a growing problem.

Looking for an alternative, he and his project team hit on the idea of using Proxim Tsunami MP.11 pre-standard WiMAX gear instead, operating in the 5.8GHz band which is ‘lightly licenced’ at a nominal fee of £1 per station.

“We had got to the stage where the network we built in 2002 was seriously creaking at the seams, so three years ago we began the process of moving the backbone to 5.8GHz,” he said. “The Proxim gear didn’t need as much care and attention as the Cisco stuff we had.”

Once the new backbone was working, they then replaced the customers’ equipment with Proxim too. Heery explained that it’s more expensive than generic Wi-Fi gear and has a larger antenna, but is able to move from today’s 2Mbit/s service to provide 12Mbit/s – 10Mbit/s download and 2Mbit/s upload, in part because there is less interference.

“We’re offering 2Mbit/s now, but stepping it up as we get more [backhaul] capacity in,” he said. As part of that, and to support local businesses, Cybermoor is building a fibre backbone between its three hubs.

“That will enable significantly better bandwidth to customers, allowing people to live and work in a nice place with good schools,” he added.

The Alston Moor network runs as a co-operative, using the IT skills of local residents, and was set up because BT was then unable to provide broadband locally. Heery said that although ADSL is now available, “We grabbed most of the customers before BT moved in.”

Some have since moved to various ADSL providers, but a number of those have subsequently moved back, he claimed, as they found they weren’t getting the same level of service, or were having to deal with distant call centres.

“It’s a different set of values from the big ISPs,” he said. “It’s about using local skills, using technology innovatively, and seeing social returns. The big players invest until they see a return on capital and then stop.”