Launch of Signal – the Swindon Wifi Network

Yesterday (16th December 2009) I attended the launch of Signal, the district-wide wifi network for Swindon. Well, actually, I missed the main event. It was always going to be a tall order to get to Swindon and back in a day, but two cancelled trains and two that were both half an hour late on the outward journey meant I missed the main launch. Nevertheless, I was able to have some interesting chats with a number of people involved in the initiative, following on from a previous discussion I had with Rikki Hunt, the Chief Executive of Digital City UK, the company which is implementing the network.

I have come across some skeptical views about the initiative, some people think it’s a distraction from the inevitable race to install fibre networks everywhere, others just think it will never work because wifi networks have been installed elsewhere and have not worked. Rikki and his colleagues are adamant, nevertheless, that they have learned all the lessons of previous initiatives, and their modern, robust infrastructure will deliver their aim of 20Mb/s synchronous connections across the area, including the rural communities.

A key feature of the Swindon initiative is the intention to give everyone free access to the network for 2 hours per day. This is an experiment worth watching as it could be a major driver for digital inclusion. There are ambitious plans to use the network to increase the uptake of digital public services, and there will be offers allowing householders and businesses to add other services such as home security and energy monitoring to their basic broadband package. Another interesting aspect of local plans, is the launch of a local branded phone SIM card, which will enable free phone calls within the district.

The launch event took place at Highworth Library. The first part of the network went live around Highworth, which is a village some 7 miles or so from the town of Swindon, thus demonstrating the ability of the network to reach into rural areas. The plan is for the whole of the district to be covered by the middle of 2010.

Teachers and students from the local school were invited to learn more about the implementation of the network, and I was able to film part of a discussion between Rikki Hunt (on the right of shot), his colleague Mustafa Arif (left of shot), and John Saunders, Head Teacher (second from left), and Philip Manghorn (Head of ICT) of Highworth Warneford School.

I think there may be some particularly exciting opportunities to experiment in an area where school students will be able to access material in school, in their homes, and on the move in between them.

Later in the day, members of the local community were invited to learn about the new network and discuss their concerns and queries with those involved. I filmed part of a lively discussion between Rikki Hunt and some interested local residents.

I aim to keep in touch with the development of this exciting and interesting initiative. It’s launch came on the same day that Manchester Digital Development Agency went public on the experiments it is doing with making free wifi available in the city centre. So, this approach may well be spreading.

http://tm.mbs.ac.uk/tm-features/high-speed-fibre-isnt-just-for-christmas-in-manchester/

Preparing for the Social Media Train

In preparation for the Social Media Train, I conducted a signal test on the Barnsley-Huddersfield stretch of the Penistone Railway line on 14th December 2009.

This was in no way a scientific test. I simply took the three different devices I normally carry around with me and watched their signal meters. The devices were:

• Apple iPhone 3G on the O2 Network
• Blackberry Bold 900 on Vodafone
• Nokia N95 on Three

I recorded every time the signal changed on at least one device, plus I recorded the state of the signal at each station. It could well be that the Network performance was affected by the properties of the different devices.

Nevertheless, this test suggests that the idea of getting some sponsored mifis connected to the Three network for the Social Media Train could offer us the best prospect of connectivity.

All three devices had different methods of recording the signal, and not all were able to distinguish between HDSPA and 3G, or Edge and GPRS, so I have used the broad categories of 3G, GPRS, GSM, and no signal, although there may have been gradations between these.

Time

Station

Three

Vodafone

02

17:03

Barnsley

3G

3G

3G

17:05

 

3G

No signal

3G

17:06

 

3G

3G

3G

17:09

 

3G

GPRS

3G

17:10

Dodworth

3G

GPRS

3G

17:12

 

3G (weak)

No signal

GPRS

17:13

Silkstone Common

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:17

 

3G

GPRS (weak)

GPRS

17:19

 

3G (weak)

No signal

GSM

17:20

 

No signal

No signal

No signal

17:22

 

GPRS

No signal

No signal

17:23

 

GPRS

GPRS (weak)

No signal

17:25

 

GPRS

GPRS

GPRS

17:26

Penistone

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:28

 

3G

GSM

No signal

17:29

 

3G

GPRS

No signal

17:30

 

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:32

Denby Dale

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:33

(Tunnel)

No signal

No signal

No signal

17:34

 

3G

No signal

No signal

17:35

 

3G

No signal

GPRS

17:36

Shepley

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:40

Stocksmoor

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:41

(Tunnel)

No signal

No signal

No signal

17:43

 

3G

No signal

3G

17:44

Brockholes

3G

GPRS (weak)

3G (weak)

17:45

 

3G

GPRS (weak)

GPRS

17:46

 

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:47

Honley

3G

GPRS

GPRS

17:49

 

3G

3G

GPRS

17:50

Berry Brow

3G

3G

3G

17:51

 

3G

GPRS

3G

17:52

Lockwood

3G

3G

3G

17:55

(Tunnel)

3G

No signal

GSM

17:56

Huddersfield

3G

3G

3G

First York Social Media Surgery

Social Media Surgeries are gaining momentum around Yorkshire. Last night (9/12/09) saw the first SMS in York.There was a great turnout and some fantastic feedback from people who came to learn how blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, etc might help the work of their community organisation. A big thank you to York Council for Voluntary Services for providing the venue and coffee, and to Ama Butler, for the cup cakes which were very popular indeed.

Much of the event’s success was down to the energy and organisational skills of Abhay Adhikari and Christine Morris. Thanks to the other surgeons, Tom Smith, Rick Waghorn (who came all the way from Norwich), Helen Harrop, Mike Leigh-Cooper, Jonic Linley, Jonathan Irvine, Sophie Ballinger, and Dan Croxen-John (I hope I haven’t missed anyone).

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Huddersfield Festival of Light 2009

I love Steven Tuck’s take on the Huddersfield Festival of Light, this year’s version of which took place last Friday evening, December 4th.

In the past, I have found the annual festival events to be a mixture of the wierd and the sublime. This year’s happening, delivered by the French company Transe Expresse, was a mixture of both, tending more towards the sublime end of the spectrum.

A big crowd turned out in the centre of Huddersfield, and most people seemed to have a great time. Here’s to more next year.

Here are my videos of the event: http://www.vimeo.com/album/152587

If you don’t have time to watch them all, then I recommend the last one, below, the most unusual version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” you’ll see!