Swindon To Get City-Wide Wi-Fi


Residents in a Wiltshire town are to get free wireless internet access thanks to plans to install a blanket “Wi-Fi mesh” network by next year

The population of Swindon are to enjoy free internet access thanks to plans to install a Wi-Fi network across the Wiltshire town.

All 186,000 citizens are expected to have blanket “Wi-Fi mesh” coverage by April 2010 thanks to a £1 million project that will be run by Digital City UK Ltd, in which Swindon Borough Council has a 35 percent share.

The service has been dubbed Signal, and will offer “free connection to the internet, free line rental and connection charge, and borough-wide movement, while staying online.” Usage, however, “will be limited.”

Subscribers will also apparently be able to sign up for speedy 20Mb upgrades for “significantly less per month than major broadband competitors following a free three-month trial,”. There will also be pay-as-you-go options for visitors to the town.

“This is a truly groundbreaking partnership which will have real benefits for everyone living in Swindon,” said Rod Bluh, Swindon Borough Council Leader. “Not only will residents in the Borough be able to access the internet for free, the Council and its partners will be able to use the technology to provide cutting-edge services to the areas or individuals who need them. Digital City will also provide the Council with a unique funding stream and it is our intention to use our expertise to help other local authorities follow our lead.”

Exact details on how it will work , such as where the access points would be mounted, were not revealed. That said, around 1,400 access points are expected to be installed, “similar to those in homes and offices, but with a much higher performance. These will interconnect to form a ‘mesh’ to cover a wide area,” said the company.

The network will use the newer WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption standard, and will also include anti-virus software, as well as online services from the likes of Microsoft and Google.

The first phase of the Wi-Fi network will be switched on in the Highworth area in early December, with the remainder of the project being completed by the end of April.

Swindon is not the first UK town to be touting the benefits of a blanket Wi-Fi network. Back in August 2006, to much fanfare, the citizens of Norwich gained access to free Wi-Fi from a project backed by Norfolk County Council and the East of England Development Agency.

However, the two year pilot scheme called Norfolk OpenLink didn’t last. According to a spokeswoman from Norfolk County Council, the pilot finished in the middle of last year.

“It was only ever a pilot project that was funded for two years to assess the viability of building of a city-wide network,” said Ann Carey, the former programme director for Norfolk OpenLink, speaking to eWEEK Europe UK.

“After the funding ran out in mid 2008, there were commercial interests in taking the project on, but it was timed with the recession and no one was in a position to get funding,” Carey explained. “However, there is a company that may announce something in the future, so it is not the end of the story. Watch this space.”

“One of the issues we discovered was that lamposts were not the best place to hang access points,” she said. “We found lamposts varied in the way they are wired and configured. Where in the post the wiring goes in for example could mean a more expensive installation. Also putting extra holes could compromise the integrity of the post. Other issues involved getting access to them, as you needed cherry picker and street closures, which was expensive and complex.”

Carey confirmed that Norwich’s access points were all removed when the project ended.

Author: Tom Jowitt
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