Swindon promises city-wide Wi-Fi mesh network

Swindon promises city-wide Wi-Fi mesh network

Summary: The network, to be developed through a public-private partnership, will aim to give all Swindon residents free internet access and potentially allow wireless CCTV and smart metering

TOPICS: Networking

Swindon is planning a borough-wide Wi-Fi mesh network providing free internet access to all residents.

The network was announced on Tuesday by Swindon Borough Council, which has teamed up with former Swindon Town FC chairman Rikki Hunt and the software-as-a-service (SaaS) company aQovia to set up a new company, Digital City UK.

Digital City UK, under the brand name 'Signal', will install a mesh Wi-Fi network covering the whole borough of Swindon. Mesh networks intelligently organise themselves so they can self-heal if one node fails.

According to Digital City UK's statement on Tuesday, users will be able to "seamlessly" move between access points with no interruption to service. The statement suggests the network could be used not only for free web access, but also for air-quality monitoring, free voice calls, wireless CCTV coverage, smart metering communications and telemedicine applications.

Swindon Borough Council has a 35 percent stake in the public-private partnership. Hunt told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that Digital City UK intends to set up other similar partnerships in cities and towns across the UK, with the relevant local authority holding a 35 percent stake in each case.

The first phase of the Swindon network will be turned on the Highworth neighbourhood in early December, while the rest of the project will be live by the end of April, the statement said.

"This is a truly groundbreaking partnership which will have real benefits for everyone living in Swindon," Swindon Borough Council leader Rod Bluh said in the statement. "Not only will residents in the borough be able to access the internet for free [but] 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."

Mustafa Arif, aQovia's director, noted in the statement that the idea of city-wide free Wi-Fi networks had "died out a few years ago with scant examples of any sustainable networks", but argued that Digital City UK's business model was "built around subsidising free access with revenues from business and community services that are delivered over our wireless network".

Arif added: "This innovative partnership demonstrates a viable way forward for other towns and cities."

According to Tuesday's statement, the network will be launched with speeds of "up to 20Mbps" and tiered services will be "as fast as people want to pay for". Wireless repeaters will be supplied for installation in windows, so signals can be improved indoors.

"The free access is probably going to be based on a limited time rather than a limited speed," Hunt told ZDNet UK. He said users would be able to gain free access at the maximum available speed for two hours a day, which, he said, would be sufficient for "social inclusion" needs.

The network will be protected with the WPA encryption standard and no devices connected to the network will be "accessible from the outside world", according to the statement.

Hunt said Digital City UK's business model would depend not on the Wi-Fi network itself, but on the bundled services that the company would resell over that network. He said this approach would help the scheme succeed where entirely free municipal Wi-Fi schemes have failed.

"What we've done is we're developing a series of applications that people will subscribe to — that gives us the business model and lets us make money," Hunt said.

He added that Google and Microsoft products would be resold to customers, along with security products and "energy monitoring and intervention products" that would let Digital City UK "remotely intervene and... switch things on and off as we see fit".

Asked whether Digital City UK had any experience in rolling out Wi-Fi mesh networks, Hunt said aQovia was "bringing in partners to look at this". He said Digital City UK did not see such deployments as "technically challenging".

Hunt also said Digital City UK was looking at creating a branded SIM card that would allow users to get free voice calls while in the Wi-Fi-enabled area, then switch across to a standard mobile operator when leaving the zone. He said the company was in "early conversations" with several operators about this plan.

Topic: Networking

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Big brother sniffs the packets

    Great, so as well as abusing the anti-terrorist laws Swindon Council goes one step further and invites you to have all your wireless traffic scrutinised by the Borough. One small step for for the wi-fi user, one giant leap for big brother.
    Justin Cornish
  • Well it sounded like a good idea until..

    "What we've done is we're developing a series of applications that people will subscribe to
  • oh the humanity

    how many times has money been squandered on the idea of free metro wifi... it will NOT work.. these numpties don't even know what an aerial is, let alone the complexities of what they are proposing..

    But hey if they want to employ a company who does, then we would be quite happy to take the money and put up the system.. As long as we got paid before the business model is found to be paper in the rain..

  • From a resident

    I live in Swindon, and if this service is as sophisticated as their residents parking and their leisure 'pass' then I shall not hold my breath.
  • "users will be able to "seamlessly" move between access points with no interruption to service." as someone that works with mesh networks I don't know of any systems currently around that can do this, so I will wait and see if this works as described. Feel free to check out www.affordablenetworks.co.uk to see a mesh network in Towyn, North Wales which was setup by local businesses within the town.
  • Why? Why? Why?

    Sounds like community money getting wasted......why not simply make a deal with Fon (www.fon.com) like BT did and have WiFi hotspots installed in most important public places at 39 Euro per router? Citizens (opt-in) can then subsequently join in allowing total coverage of Swindon. The additional benefit is that all participating parties will also be able to have free internet access through the existing 7 million Fon hotspots.

    On top of this amazing infrastructure have nice mobile calling apps like Yelo (www.yeloworld) with extreme low calling rates instead of trying to have people switch to Multi IMSI Sim cards......this approach has never worked.