Skip Navigation

Swindon to get free public Wi-Fi
Tuesday 17 November 2009 16:32:35 by Andrew Ferguson

While other areas and the government is talking about what to do, it seems that Swindon Council has taken the bull by the horns and with partners has created a company called Digital City UK to roll-out a Wi-Fi network across the borough.

The website for the service which is to be known as Signal is relatively sparse, but people can register for an update as the service goes live. The first area of Swindon to be connected will be Highworth, with the remaining areas completed by April 2010.

The free service will be limited in terms of usage, but should allow for basic web browsing and email and people will have the option to sign up for a 20Meg service. The price has not been published but it is said to be significantly less than major broadband services, and charging only starts after a three month trial. For non-residents, pay as you go options are planned.

Swindon is unusual in that it has perhaps the highest broadband penetration in the country. Back in 2007 this was running at around 65% of households, but housing estates under construction were known for slow or no broadband access. This problem was largely solved by the rare situation of BT creating a new telephone exchange.

The new Wi-Fi service appears to be aware of the problems of getting a Wi-Fi signal into properties. Older properties often suffer from thick walls, and newer build properties with the emphasis on insulation will have things like a thin metallic foil on windows to prevent heat loss, and foil backed plasterboard. There is talk of the supply of wireless repeaters and it seems these will form a personal firewall for each home. The issue of security is addressed by the use of WPA encryption, with we presume individual keys so that each user's own data is secure.

How much this new network eats into the revenue from the commercial broadband providers will depend on what the various restrictions on the network are, and what peak time speeds are like. If the service is very popular and works well, then firms such as BT may see revenues drop quickly in the area, and this would likely affect any plans for any FTTC roll-out. The lessons from areas that rolled out their own cable TV many years ago need to be learnt to avoid what could be a good network now becoming a folly in a couple of years time. In broadband terms, this means ensuring the network can cope with increasing demands on bandwidth and give consumers speeds of service that will keep pace with the best that is available.


Posted by wirelesspacman over 7 years ago
I'll believe it when I see it!
Posted by wispy over 7 years ago
wonder if it will last longer than the norfolk openlink project....
Posted by Justin_c over 7 years ago
Great, so as well as abusing the anti-terrorist laws Swindon Council goes one step further and invites you to have all your wireless traffic scrutinised by the Borough. One small step for for the wi-fi user, one giant leap for big brother.
Posted by wirelesspacman over 7 years ago
lol! I think you are quite safe there - the council budget will be busted just trying to get the thing working in the first place.
Posted by c_j_ over 7 years ago
Swindon? And this is WiFi not WiMax? Oh dear, one of Swindon's most famous employers has missed an opportunity there. Mind you, as a consequence there's a chance the service might actually be usable by Joe Public in a realistic timeframe. Maybe.

As wirelesspacman says, time will tell.
Posted by daftjames over 7 years ago
Living in Highworth, you can't even get decent 3G coverage because of the terrain - how anyone thinks WiFi will work is a mystery,
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
They will deploy around 1400 wi-fi masts, and how many 3G masts in the area?
Posted by herdwick over 7 years ago
and each "mast" will have a maximum data capacity of what, 20 mbits/s, to share between all users and mesh traffic both up and down.
Posted by timmay over 7 years ago
what a joke and a waste of of TAX money! Also not the first attempt and will fail like all previous city mesh/Wi-Fi networks! Plus think of all the people unable to use normal Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz ever again due to all the interference from the 'Signal'.
Posted by md09 over 7 years ago
Oh god, nationalised internet. Forgive me if I am cynical for a moment:

1. The govt is ridiculously incompetent.

2. We've already established it wants to poke its nose into every area of our lives.

3. It's not "free," it's tax funded, and so will drive out private competitors even if they are better.
Posted by Aqualung over 7 years ago
I dont know swindon at all but in my area its difficult to get locals to accept the masts, perhaps they are looking to get round this by offering the free service and then sell on the masts at a later date :)
Posted by cyberdoyle over 7 years ago
Radio 4 You and Yours spoke to the council people at Swindon about it if you want more info. It will be on iPlayer for a few days.
Seems like it is only limited time free, and people are expected to pay, making it sustainable. Jury is out. I can't help but think fibre would have been better, but that me. the fibrehead.
Posted by c_j_ over 7 years ago
For those who say things like this are depriving the private sector of business opportunities: chances are they'll get the dosh anwyay. Back in the era of BT Exchange Activate, Anglesey wasn't going to get DSL broadband so the Council proposed a wireless strategy (Anglesey Connected) initially linking council offices, libraries, schools, etc. Since then, the island has DSL broadband, but...

The Council didn't do the design and build themselves, a subcontractor did. BeT you can't guess who... here's a hint:

Posted by wirelesspacman over 7 years ago
The Radio 4 muppet claims 20 Megabytes per second!!!!! Clearly he has not got a clue what he is talking about.

Also, he reckons that the "free" service will be 2 to 3 hours per day of usage. That would bankrupt any "proper" commercial service very quickly.

Unless there is something fundamental I am missing here, this is total and utter *******s!
Posted by md09 over 7 years ago
"For those who say things like this are depriving the private sector of business opportunities: chances are they'll get the dosh anwyay. ... The Council didn't do the design and build themselves, a subcontractor did."

This misses the point somewhat. I dont think anyone is personally deeply concerned about some company's profit margin. What I am concerned about is that creeping internet nationalisation will leave only one choice for consumers. A choice the government's record gives us every reason to believe will be very poor.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 7 years ago
Er, lol?

It's something being done by a local council. This is not in any sense "nationalisation".
Posted by wirelesspacman over 7 years ago
One could easily argue that it is the start of a long slippery slope - which presumably is what md09 meant be "creeping" nationalisation.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 7 years ago
No, one couldn't when it's a purely local initiative.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
Local initiatives can be held up as an example of a system that worked, and then be used for building a county based model, or a national one potentially.

The Norwich system fizzled out, but the nature of Swindon means things may be a little different. High broadband demand, and speed issues in some areas.
Posted by wirelesspacman over 7 years ago
I agree. Something that starts as "purely local" could "creep" to something more national - hence "creeping nationalisation".
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 7 years ago
Well, decide then - is the service hyper-viable and going to creep, or something which is a joke? Because you currently want it both ways.

It's the same language as the ISP's in America who block public broadband then don't roll out their own systems, because they "might want to compete" in the future.

Not surprised the staff here agree with that either.
Posted by wirelesspacman over 7 years ago
Excuse me? So I apparantly <want> it both ways? Try reading, it helps sometimes.
Posted by daftjames over 7 years ago
1400 wifi access points - I already see 12 APs from home and occasionally get interference problems - this will only make it worse, I suppose. What I don't understand is who the target is, the only people on my street who aren't connected are those who don't have PCs...
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 7 years ago
No wirelesspacman, which is it? Because you've espoused both views.
Posted by chefbyte over 7 years ago
Surely this is not the only place to have free WiFi in town centres? Grimsby town has had it for a year now and every time I go to Leeds for meetings, I get free wireless in the city centre?

Or am I missing something else?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
I wonder how mental mandy intends on tracking a whole towns usage, especially when anyone (even those that dont live in Swindon) could in theory connect to it for a few hours grab their movie and then be gone, that IP and MAC never to be seen again.
You must be logged in to post comments. Click here to login.