Swindon hopes to profit from free Wi-Fi mesh network

Swindon Borough Council hopes to eclipse previous failed attempts to provide ratepayers with free wireless internet connections when it switches on a private-public Wi-Fi system on 16 December.

Swindon Borough Council hopes to eclipse previous failed attempts to provide ratepayers with free wireless internet connections when it switches on a private-public Wi-Fi system on 16 December.

The venture, a 1,400-unit wireless "mesh" that covers the borough, has the council and technology partner aQovia holding 35% of the venture each, with project manager Avidity holding 30%.

Avidity CEO Rikki Hunt said the partners are hoping for a payback on their £1m and £1.5m investment in 18 to 24 months.

Hunt said the crucial difference between the Swindon project and similar ones elsewhere is that the partners plan to sell applications over the network.

These will provide the profits that allow them to maintain and enhance the network, whereas most others, such as Norwich, died when the town council ran out of money, he said.

Applications include remote monitoring of houses or crime hotspots, energy use, environment, patients and traffic, among others, he said. There were also plans to address schools and pupils' needs.

The council was being "very helpful" in introducing the partners to potential public sector users. "We will win them over based on price and service," said Hunt.

The system uses free to air radio frequencies with Wi-Fi technology for local access and Wimax technology for backhaul (trunk) networking. The 2kg antennas will be mounted on lamp posts.

Hunt said they planned to introduce a SIM card so that users would be able to call for free while in Wi-Fi contact, but the call would switch to the mobile network if the user changed radio cells.

Ratepayers will be able to access the internet at speeds up to 20Mbps for free for two hours a day, and to subscribe on contract for longer periods.

Hunt said eight other UK councils had shown interest in the Swindon project, and it had attracted Russian television to the launch. He was also talking to a number of energy suppliers about the energy use monitoring application, but this was separate from the recently announced national smart meter project.

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