Wi-Fi is an increasingly ubiquitous service. Whether travelling to the other side of the world for business or popping down to the local coffee shop for a break, people expect to be connected to the internet and be able to access their emails, check their social networks and go about their daily tasks on the move.
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As a result, more companies are ensuring they make the service available. In recent years, everyone from fast food chains such as McDonalds and KFC to large venues such as Lords or Anfield has been installing the technology.
Now it seems the public sector is beginning to see the benefits Wi-Fi can bring and rather than just allocating budgets to the odd venue, whole cities are looking to get connected.
One such city is York. The ancient hub in the north of England is home to almost 200,000 people and receives almost seven million visitors every year to take in attractions from the famous York Minster to the Jorvik Viking Museum.
Technologically advanced city
Yet, despite its deep historical routes, the city has always been forward thinking when it comes to technology. In 2010, the City Council signed a £13.7m deal with Pinacl which included the roll out of a metro fibre network to serve the council's estate – including 67 schools, 14 libraries, accommodation, council offices and sports facilities – and provide bandwidth for new services.
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The council completed the project with help from managed service provider Pinacl, and in 2013 it turned to the provider again to build on the existing system and bring fast connectivity to the wider population.
Roy Grant, head of ICT at the council, says: “York City Council had already embarked on an ambitious digital plan, installing the largest metro fibre network in the UK. The next stage was Wi-Fi.
“We saw Wi-Fi as a key enabler of a thriving business community, and an essential service for the millions of visitors and residents, as well as a key driver for council information services.
The move was part of the Reinvigorate York project, set to rejuvenate the city centre. Once the council had decided Wi-Fi was the way forward, it chose Ruckus Wireless as the technology partner to go on the journey with.
The firm specialises in smart Wi-Fi systems for large, densely populated environments, and has a number of important case studies under its belt, from public Wi-Fi in San Francisco to connectivity in airports.
Ruckus Wireless received an honourable mention in the Computer Weekly European User Awards for networking.
Sympathetic mix of history and technology
But York is still a big project, and the council decided to start small with three defined hubs to test out the technology, giving residents, visitors and local businesses access to services provided by the local authority.
We saw Wi-Fi as a key enabler of a thriving business community, and an essential service for the millions of visitors and residents, as well as a key driver for council information services
Roy Grant, City of York Council
“With an outdoor focus, this deployment evolved to encompass a city centre Wi-Fi solution that would light up key hotspots, with a view to joining them together to provide complete Wi-Fi coverage across as much of the city as possible,” says Grant.
“Many visitors to the historic City of York enjoy sampling the delights of Coney Street and St Helen's Square, or visit the Museum Gardens for outdoor concerts, weddings and York Museum itself. Alternatively, they can travel to the edge of the city to see Rowntree Park, a recreational space donated by the world-renowned confectioners to the memory of the cocoa workers who fell during the Great War. Now, they can do so and enjoy all the benefits of free Wi-Fi access too,” he says.
One of the key parts of the project was ensuring the hardware installed didn’t detract from the beautiful and historical buildings that cover the City of York while still ensuring high-speed connections.
Pinacl looked into this and selected Ruckus ZoneFlex 7363 dual-band (2.4/5Ghz) indoor 802.11n mid-range access points, which include the company’s BeamFlex adaptive antenna technology.
BeamFlex holds a smart, compact antenna array with multiple elements, which can be combined in real time to form individual antenna patterns. The software then intelligently learns from the environment, identifying any issues or possible interference, and selects the best route for devices to communicate, ducking the problems and minimising the effect on other nearby networks.
Quick and straightforward Wi-Fi installation
Mark Lowe, director of major accounts at Pinacl, says despite the complex problems it overcomes, the technology was “straightforward to deploy and manage”, so the firm’s engineers didn’t need much training before embarking on the project.
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The Ruckus SmartMesh technology at the centre of the system furthers this simplification. “The Ruckus equipment supports mesh operation, which meant, in the majority of cases, we only needed to provide power to the device,” he says. “No cabled network connection was necessary, which meant there was minimal disruption to the city’s infrastructure.”
This also pleased the council, which had asked for a speedy delivery for the project. All three sites were installed and operational in a matter of days, with the project completed in January 2013.
“The Ruckus equipment gave us a great experience from day one,” says Grant. “It has supported and improved our flexible working aspirations and opened up another channel of access for our customers, citizens, visitors and the business community.
“To communicate directly with the council, users can access the Wi-Fi through a smartphone application to log complaints, post requests or log on for the services we provide. It’s a tremendous, comprehensive solution that we’re satisfied with.”
Success leads to expansion
More than one million people have already accessed the free Wi-Fi without any complaints to the council, so now the City of York is looking to expand even further.
“Following the success of our initial deployment, we are looking to expand our Wi-Fi hotspots across the area within the city walls and also on to our strategic transport routes,” says Grant.
“We have recently selected Ruckus for this Wi-Fi expansion that will provide further Wi-Fi coverage to residents, visitors and businesses, so watch this space.”