Yorkshire councils upgrade networks for Tour de France

IP telephony and Wi-Fi upgrades help North Yorkshire and Leeds City Councils meet the demands of the Tour de France

Public sector bodies across Yorkshire are benefiting from upgraded networking and communications infrastructure after the Tour de France visited the north of England for the first time.

The Grand Départ, the opening stage of the Tour de France, saw more than two million people lining hundreds of miles of road to watch the first two days of the world’s biggest cycling event, which wound around Yorkshire, uphill and down dale, from Leeds to Harrogate and York to Sheffield.

While British hopes for glory were cruelly dashed when sprint star Mark Cavendish crashed out on the first day, North Yorkshire County Council and Leeds City Council were both conscious of the need to ensure their networks stayed in the saddle throughout.

North Yorkshire County Council implemented a major upgrade to its IP telephony infrastructure in order to cope with the demands of hosting the Tour, while in Leeds, a Virgin Media Business Wi-Fi network saw its capacity boosted.

In North Yorkshire, the pressure was on to ensure the council was able to provide high quality, available and resilient communications over the entire weekend.

This was considered critical not just to help direct voice traffic from spectators needing information on things such as race timing, routes, road closures and parking, but also the day-to-day business of the council.

North Yorkshire County Council has partnered with network integrator Azzurri since 2006, taking a VoIP and contact centre solution as a managed service.

Covering the largest county in England, with a population of nearly 600,000 and over 20,000 council staff relying on it, the solution has been constantly growing since installation to include services such as SIP trunking, and now encompasses over 170 locations and 4,500 individual IP phone users.

To assist with the special demands of one of the world’s largest international sporting events, Azzurri implemented two Bronze Command Centres to act as a central comms and co-ordination hub for the race itself. Each Command Centre comprised a Mitel IP telephony solution, including built-in disaster recovery features, which meant locations could easily be switched in the event of a problem.

The Council also established a customer service centre to better direct inbound calls from visitors, which included an interactive voice response (IVR) component to route callers to the right place, whether it be a department, helpline or district council.

“An event of this scale pushed everyone to the limit in terms of dealing with logistical and organisational challenges,” said North Yorkshire County Council service manager, Gavin Booth.

“The partnership between our in-house IT team and Azzurri ensured the Mitel IPT systems and contact centre technology in the customer service centre were available, reliable and contributed to an a immensely successful event which we are proud to have put on.

“In particular the overarching IVR system, which was deployed by our in-house IT team and Azzurri to a tight deadline, helped us deliver a great experience to our citizens and visiting tourists alike by ensuring each call was routed through the correct destination. We saw an increase in call volumes of 20%, but for 62% of those calls the information provided by the IVR satisfied their query.”

In Leeds, where more than 230,000 people descend on the city centre to watch the opening, Leeds City Council saw a seven-fold increase in demand for its public Wi-Fi service as spectators livestreamed news commentary, shared photos and tweeted updates from behind the crash barriers.

Using existing infrastructure provided by Virgin Media Business, and street furniture such as lampposts and telephone poles, Leeds City council partnered with Global Reach Technology and millimetre-wave backhaul radio specialist Siklu to boost availability of mobile data services.

The service was made available for 24 hours on 5 July 2014, with over 82% of users accessing the network for the first time in a strong indication of the high level of demand for connectivity.

Mark Farquhar, solutions architect for Leeds City Council ICT Services, said: “The Tour de France Grand Départ was an amazing experience and a historic day for Leeds. It was a fantastic spectacle and hopefully one made even more memorable by people being able to share content with friends and family as they watched the day unfold.”

Virgin Media Business senior business development manager Bruce Girdlestone said the day’s success demonstrated the potential resilience of Wi-Fi infrastructure when it came to meeting spikes in demand for high capacity data services over smartphones and tablets.

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