Swindon ‘Wifi’ Town

It’s not often that ‘Wiltshire’ and ‘trail-blaizing’ get to appear in the same sentence (I should know I live there!) but recent news is that Swindon is to become the first town in the UK to offer free public wireless internet access to its entire population. The plan is for all 186,000 citizens to have blanket “Wi-Fi mesh” coverage by April 2010.

This is a pretty big project by Swindon Borough Council. They intend to make line rental-free and will not be charging connection fees. The service will provided by Signal and will have limited access and usage but can pay for 20Mb upgrades charged at competitive rates. The £1m project will be run by Digital City UK Ltd, in which Swindon Borough Council has a 35% share. Local businessman Rikki Hunt,from digital technology firm aQovia, created the company especially for this particular project.

If successful, there is an intention of working on similar roll-outs of the technology in other towns and cities across the UK.

When reading about the project a few thoughts came to mind….

What about security?

Security is always the big issue when it comes to wifi. The Swindon network will be using wifi protected access (WPA) which is fairly robust. The main press release claims “Anti virus software and Microsoft and Google online services will be a key feature of the network” but there are likely to be serious security implications in managing such a system.

The other issue is health, to date there has been no evidence to show that consistent exposure to wifi signals affects health, but we are still in the early days of such technologies.

Other Uses?

Signal have already indicated some other potential uses of the mesh:

The technology will also revolutionise home and business security courtesy of CCTV coverage with rapid response, allowing homes and businesses to be monitored via a control room or remotely using laptops…There are plans to deliver valuable real-time information on home electricity usage and street-wide air quality monitoring. Swindon’s Wi-Fi also has the scope to deliver free voice calls and could be used by health professionals to carry out consultations and remote medical procedures or examinations through Telemedicine.

It will be interesting to see if there are any other implications of having a totally ‘wired’ town.

How does this work for visitors to the area?

Does this scheme just apply to locals or will visitors to the area be able to participate too? This could potentially be a big pull for those interested in establishing technology businesses. Swindon already has a fairly decent IT sector with Intel and a number of other smaller businesses being situated there.

Hasn’t this been done already?

The claim sounds a little familiar, so has a town or city already offered free blanket wireless coverage?

Apparently other UK cities have had trials of the schemes (Norwich being the one most people can remember), but this is the first time an entire town area will be covered by council-backed public wifi. In 2006 the cloud geared up to bring wireless broadband to nine cities: Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Oxford, Cambridge and three London boroughs – Islington, Kensington and Camden.. Whether this has happened or not is unclear but their intention was to create hotzones out across the cities, giving access to the internet for anyone using a wifi enabled computer or mobile. The project was not targeted at the entire population. More cities were to be announced during 2006 but I can’t find any record of this happening.

It seems there are many claims that have been made but not a lot actually happening on the ground.

I wrote a post a while back about finding wifi hotspots in towns and cities. For many of us life will continue as normal and we’ll still be hunting out those wireless hotspots when out and about. But for those in Swindon life will be a little more hi-tec!

Next Generation Wifi Here We Go!

wifi, photo by HuasonicThe Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have finally approved the next generation wifi after 7 years of work. The news broke in a blog post on the Signal2Noise site on Friday morning and was followed by a formal press release later in the day. Although products using the 802.11n technology have been sold for several years they have all been labelled “802.11n draft“.

The standard offers speeds at least six times faster than current approved technology. But as the BBC Web site explains “without the IEEE’s approval, there were no guarantees that future networking equipment would be compatible with the devices.

Back in 2007 Wifi planet noted that “Enterprises have been slow to step up to 802.11n. Surveys like the 2007 State-of-the-WLAN Report indicate that most businesses will continue to wait for the 802.11n standard to become final before pulling the trigger on widespread next-generation WLAN upgrades.

This new rubber stamping opens the way for mobile devices such as laptops, media players and phones to “offer speeds of 300 megabits per second (Mbps) and above, many times higher than the previous 802.11g, which operates at speeds of up to 54 Mbps. It is also able to transfer data over distances of 90m (300ft) indoors, double that of previous technologies“.

According to the wifi alliance:

With the potential to deliver up to five times the throughput and up to twice the range of previous-generation Wi-Fi gear, products based on the new 802.11n draft 2.0 standard can do more than ever before. Consumers will soon be able to take advantage of whole-home coverage and content-rich applications such as streaming high-definition video, online gaming with multiple users on a single network, and speedy file transfer of photos, music, and more. Enterprise users will be able leverage 802.11n products to increase network capacity and improve robustness.

Wifi just got a whole lot slicker…

Wifi Worries

After much deliberating my husband has finally allowed me to set up wireless at home. (I’m not under the thumb honest….I let him make all the technology decisions…it’s his little treat!)

Probably the main reason he has let me do it is to save on heating costs. The plan is that when it’s really cold I’ll work in the warmer south facing rooms. I’m not quite sure if the savings will be substantial (at the moment I have a PC and a laptop plugged in so am using more electricity) but in the summer I’ll be able to get outside to work which will be great.

So what’s it like then? Well although it is great here are a few not so great observations I’ve made in the past hour:

Security Issues

I’m a little concerned about security. My feeling is that I’m not as secure as I would be if I were working from my desk (albeit in the same house) or my office. You need to log on to the wireless connection but is that enough? Badly secured wireless connections mean any one can use the account. To access the University network I use Virtual Private Network (VPN) so that’s one step in the right direction. I’m going to take my laptop in to the office on Monday and make sure that all my security software is up to date.

The Demon blog suggests issuing a simple set of ‘do’s and don’ts of remote working. This makes sense. Although we have a number of policies relating to the contractual elements of remote working we don’t have much user focused information. I think I’ll suggest this to my IT services team.

Connection Issues

The connection is definitely a lot flakier. It takes me longer to open messages and view pages on the Internet. If I wanted to download anything I think I’d go upstairs to do it.

Health issues

What about health? Some people have claimed that the electro-magnetic waves are dangerous, especially for children. I tend to turn everything off when I’m not using the PC, including the router/broadband connection. Does this sort out the problem?

Ho hum…

On my lunchtime walk into town I noticed that a nearby pub (The Tavern) is having a refurbishment and announces that it will be offering coffee and free wifi when it reopens next week. I live in a pretty small town so this is exciting stuff. I guess there will be even more issues working from there, but I’m looking forward to checking it out!

Time to Switch Off?

I am currently sat in a tiny hotel room near Euston Train station. I’m in London to present at Internet Librarian International Conference. Today I ran blogging workshop with my colleague Ann Chapman and tomorrow I’m giving a presentation on preserving Web resources.

Anyway that’s by the by, I wanted to blog because this is a bit of a landmark occasion being the first time I’ve updated my blog as a remote worker away from my home office desk.

I feel like a real remote worker. A remote remote worker!!

The wifi in this hotel is pretty easy to use and as wifi becomes more mainstream I can see that for some people it becomes hard to draw the line between work and play. I have a colleague (who will remain nameless!) who seems unable to go to a pub unless there’s wireless. Possibly one step to far?

So when do you switch off?

Light Switch

This blog post by Phillipa Hammond on Remote working using Wi-fi explores this.

She comes to the conclusion “I’m still not sure if work/life balance can truly exist when you’re freelance, or whether it’s just that your life and your work become intertwined”. I guess the same applies to anyone who works from home.

Interestingly one of the people commenting says:

“I used to do a lot of remote working, using the combination of my laptop and mobile phone. I’ve worked from mountain campsites and tropical beaches. For the first couple of years, I thought it was great because it allowed me to take more vacations. After a while though, it started to get old, and a family rebellion convinced me to make great efforts to leave all work at home when vacationing. Even though I was spending only 10% or so of my time working, I found that not having any work at all makes for a much more pleasant vacation.”

So what do we do? When do we draw the line? Having small children I doubt if I’d get a chance to do my work while on holiday, and even if I could I don’t think I’d want to.

Maybe that’s just me. What do people think?