VillageBroadband brings superfast Wi-Fi to rural Northamptonshire

The community project turned company serves up 10-15Mbps Wi-Fi to 3,500 residents in rural parts of the East Midlands county

Much investment, both public and private, is being put into the roll-out of broadband across the UK. However, rural areas are still at the mercy of local authorities and the BDUK project as to whether they will see even 2Mbps connections come to their villages in the next four years.

One of the areas that had been suffering from this lack of connectivity was Northamptonshire. Although set in-between the towns of Wellingborough and Milton Keynes, the hamlet of Strixton and its neighbouring villages, Wollaston and Denton, has been suffering from poor internet – if any at all – for several years, being ignored by the large telephone companies who couldn’t see a big enough return on investment to build out in the area.

This left 5,000 people and businesses across the area looking for an answer to their broadband woes and one resident took it upon himself to find a new solution.

Eight years ago, Dr Mike Goldsmith was already working from home running his healthcare business, Medigold, and was looking for a reliable connection to work on.

“As a chairman of a big corporation, if I was at home I needed to be working and have a good internet connection,” he told Computer Weekly. “Nowadays in rural Britain, if you get 1.2Mbps from BT you are doing well, but I couldn’t even access that.

“This is a universal problem replicated across Britain and the only answer is to go fibre optic.”

The problem with fibre broadband, even more so almost 10 years ago, is that it is expensive to deploy straight to the home. However, a fellow villager of Goldsmith’s had decided to take the matter into his own hands and put in a 4Mbps leased line to ensure his connectivity.

“This guy had a technical background and set up a wireless network to allow more of us to take advantage of the connectivity,” said Goldsmith. “About 10 or 12 of us then joined as clients to get wireless access at home.”

The resident began to expand this network to reach neighbouring villages offering further connectivity. But when he decided to sell up and move on, Goldsmith, helped by another local resident and IT professional, Alan Denton, took over the running of two bonded 2Mbps fibre lines to provide a wireless wide area network (WAN) to local residents and businesses under the company name VillageBroadband.

This served the population for a time, but as the need for speed grew between the 40 residents, the time was coming where the firm needed to up its game.

They decided the answer was a private ADSL line but from a firm that would allow it to continue to commercialise the line and create their own wireless network from it. After much investigation, the company chose to go with Fluidata.

“When we look at the market, they were the most competitive option out there, but since we signed up with them, they have been a delight to work with,” said Goldsmith. “They have a similar story to us as an up and coming ISO, with good technology and a strong service ethic.”

We found more and more people during the recession were working from home and more and more companies were moving to rural locations

Dr Mike Goldsmith, MD, VillageBroadband

Fluidata installed a 20Mbps ADSL in a building near the telephone exchange in Wellingborough, but it had a clear view across the six miles to the hamlet, enabling a wireless connection of between 4Mbps and 5Mbps to reach residents.

But this was five years ago and, although it had proved a success, the number of customers signing up was putting a strain on the network, meaning Goldsmith and his team needed to upgrade their offering.

“There was pressure from customers and everyone wanted more speed,” added Goldsmith. “The big influence on our domestic customers was TV, with people wanting to stream shows online.”

“However, from the business side, we found more and more people during the recession were working from home and more and more companies were moving to rural locations. Yes, there was a better quality of life, but they couldn’t sacrifice broadband connectivity.”

So in September 2012, VillageBroadband made the move to fibre. Fluidata built a fibre line from its network to provide 100Mbps superfast broadband into the farm and business park where VillageBroadband is based in Strixton. This connection was then transmitted wirelessly over a 5GHz network to a base in Wollaston and then to the surrounding villages.

The new solution meant 3,500 residents and businesses were now able to receive minimum connections of 10Mbps, with many going up to as much as 15Mbps, via the company’s WAN.

“We now have a lot of loyal clients and many more wanting to join up,” said Goldsmith. “We view this as a community service and are proud of what we have achieved so far.”

Now VillageBroadband is looking to the future. They want to keep adding customers to the network and there is even talk of expanding outside of its home turf, but Goldsmith admitted the current government plans had left a bad taste in the mouth.

“When it came to the BDUK roll-out, there wasn’t a level playing field and I resented the way no-one could compete with BT,” he said. “Our hands were tied by the rules but we will continue to talk with our local authorities about any future involvement.”

“But, we will just carry on growing. We have now started to make a bit of profit and we think we will double our size over the next few years without more investment.”

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