Dartmoor National Park has deployed a Cloud in a Box Wi-Fi network from The Cloud to offer its 2.4 million annual visitors some semblance of connectivity to the outside world while at its three main visitor centres.
Although close to the regional centres of Plymouth and Exeter, in terms of technology Dartmoor is largely stuck in the 1980s when it comes to connectivity. In many areas of the 368-square-mile park visitors struggle to receive basic mobile signal, while ICT and premises head Ali Bright said he was increasingly finding people wanted full 3G internet.
However, to get mobile phone companies to bring full coverage into remote areas such as Dartmoor would require massive amounts of campaigning from the authority, as well as a level of investment from the mobile operators that would be very hard to recoup. It would also risk spoiling some of the country’s most pristine landscapes.
To get around the problem the park authority – which functions like a local government authority, with similar powers over planning and environment – approached public Wi-Fi provider The Cloud to supplement its existing network.
“For security reasons, we needed to make sure that visitors accessing the internet did not also have access to the authority’s information,” said Bright.
“It would be possible to maintain privacy through firewalls and various other security solutions, but it made more sense to have a separate network that is not connected to our own. This led us to a public Wi-Fi solution.”
Putting The Cloud at the front end also meant Bright’s two-strong IT team was not lumbered with the task of setting up and maintaining the authority’s new network.
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“Because we are so small there was risk – we didn’t have the manpower to manage it if something was to go wrong. All the responsibility with The Cloud is with the provider,” said Bright.
“The other big win is the customer base that The Cloud has already means people can come to Dartmoor and will already be registered because they have already used it."
The Cloud in a Box kit is specifically designed to enable smaller organisations to offer free Wi-Fi to guests and customers
The network was deployed in summer 2014 at Dartmoor National Park’s main Princetown visitor centre for an initial six-month trial, and is now being rolled out at its Haytor and Postbridge facilities in time for the 2015 season.
Besides casual browsing, the free-to-access and time-unlimited Wi-Fi network is set to become a component of Dartmoor’s learning outreach as well, complementing other services already offered by the visitor centres.
As a case in point, the park has seen a boost to the numbers of downloads of audio tours, as visitors access the park’s website to download audio guide MP3s that offer information on self-guided trails, historical and geographical facts, and even music.
Bright has also installed more quick response (QR) codes in the Princetown visitor centre, to allowing visitors to download extra information.
A further benefit has been, as hoped, increased footfall, as people stymied by lack of 3G service begin to visit the centres purely to check email and browse social media. In turn, this has led to more sales at the park’s retail units.
Dartmoor is now also looking to launch and develop a dedicated smartphone app to make accessing its products and services easier.
“Wi-Fi in the visitor centres has opened a whole host of opportunities that allow us to put the visitor at the heart of everything we do. Most importantly, we have been able to do this while also tailoring the roll-out to suit our size and budget,” said Bright.