Until yesterday Swindon was stuck squarely between Bristol and Reading on the M4 corridor in Wiltshire. Now it has moved one step closer to Silicon Valley with plans to become Britain’s first wi-fi town, and free internet access for its 186,000-strong population.
No one within the borough boundary will be out of range of a wireless connection after April next year, when 1,400 access points will be placed on street lamps to form the “Swindon mesh”. The aim, according to the leader of the borough council, which is backing the project, is for the region to show the way for the rest of England.
The project is a partnership between the borough council and two private companies, both of which hope to recoup their investment by offering paid-for upgrades to businesses and heavy users.
However, every Swindon resident will receive free wireless access for a limited period each day. (...)
The project is expected to cost £1 million and is jointly funded by the council and Avidity and aQovia, which each own a one-third share. Together they have formed the company Digital City UK. The private companies will recoup their investment by charging subscriptions for extended access and broadband packages.
Attempts to set up similar schemes in the US have foundered because of the cost of infrastructure, but Mr Bluh said: “This is tried and tested technology. Although it is the first in Britain, there are 90 other cities worldwide where this has been done.
“We are funding this in the form of loans, and even if the companies were to fail we would be covered, because we will own the hardware.”
The service will also be available to visitors to the town, who will pay a one-off fee for access. Installation will begin in the Highworth area in early December and the whole town should be covered by the end of April 2010.
Rikki Hunt, of Avidity, said: “I have a view that the reason this hasn’t been done before is that no one has thought of putting together the public and private model. We both have different skills to bring to the table. We bring the commerciality and the public sectors bring the knowledge of the community. We have built up a trust between us.”
Press release | Swindon Council makes the internet free to all | 17 November 2009 (pdf)
Trailblazing Swindon Borough Council is working with the private sector to make Swindon the first town in the UK to provide free internet access for all its residents.
The Council has teamed up with the concept’s originator Rikki Hunt and digital technology firm aQovia to create the company Digital City UK, which under the brand name ‘Signal’, will install a Wi-Fi wireless mesh covering the whole of the Borough of Swindon.
The exciting technological revolution is Swindon Borough Council’s first public/private commercial venture and will provide a range of services and applications for the whole community including free connection to the internet, free line rental and connection charge, and borough-wide movement, while staying online. The public will be able to access the internet and download emails for free but usage will be limited.
Subscribers will also be able to sign up for 20Mb upgrades for significantly less per month than major broadband competitors following a free three-month trial, while there will be pay-as-you-go options so visitors to the town can benefit from the Wi-Fi network.
The technology will also revolutionise home and business security courtesy of CCTV coverage with rapid response, allowing homes and businesses to be monitored via a control room or remotely using laptops.
Anti virus software and Microsoft and Google online services will be a key feature of the network and there are plans to deliver valuable real-time information on home electricity usage and street-wide air quality monitoring. Swindon’s Wi-Fi also has the scope to deliver free voice calls and could be used by health professionals to carry out consultations and remote medical procedures or examinations through Telemedicine.
The Wi-Fi project will be run by Digital City UK Ltd, of which Swindon Borough Council has a 35 per cent share, with the intention of working on similar roll-outs of the technology in other towns and cities across the UK.
The first phase of Swindon’s Wi-Fi network will be switched on in Highworth in early December with the remainder of the project being completed by the end of April.
Rod Bluh, Swindon Borough Council Leader, said:
“This is a truly groundbreaking partnership which will
have real benefits for everyone living in Swindon.
“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.”
Rikki Hunt said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the
whole of Swindon creating total social inclusion through
our free service and, while others talk, Swindon is delivering a Digital City which will benefit both the public and
Mustafa Arif, director of aQovia, said: “Ubiquitous wireless internet is essential to the realisation of a ‘Digital Britain’. Sadly the city Wi-Fi hype died out a few years ago with scant examples of any sustainable networks.
“Digital City’s business model is built around subsidising free access with revenues from business and community services that are delivered over our wireless network. This innovative partnership demonstrates a viable way forward for other towns and cities.”
(...) Color me dubious about the particulars. The Web site for the service, dubbed Signal, is unpopulated. International coverage of this story is breathless, quotes from the press release, and doesn't ask anyone from the company or elsewhere about how this could possibly work.
At least the firm plans to use WPA encryption, according to its press release. The company also recommends using a "wireless" repeater, which means there's a hidden $50 to $150 cost in obtaining such an item to pull the signal in from outside.
The network will apparently be up and running by April 2010, with an initial phase launched in December 2009. Funds will be used from both public and private sources, and a local businessman's firm, Digital City UK, will handle the buildout. The Swindon town council owns 35 percent of the venture.
I don't see how the stated goals, costs, deployment, and service is feasible. I'm looking forward to further details.