Can’t Get Online Week – The Amazing WiBE

I don’t usually endorse products, but, during Can’t Get Online Week, I experienced something which really knocked me sideways. In the run up to the week, Richard Dix of Rural Broadband contacted me to ask if I would like a loan of a WiBE (Wireless Broadband Extender) for the week. I gratefully accepted his offer, but did so with a degree of skepticism. I had read some of the publicity about the WiBE which seemed to make unfeasible claims about its ability to get mobile broadband signals in places where no other device could get one, but I was willing to give it a go, as some of the places I was due to visit during the week would offer it a real challenge.

So, as I was leaving the second event of day 2 at Sedgeford, Norfolk, Richard handed over the box containing the WiBE and I wired it into the car to make the Can’t Get Online Week vehicle truly internet enabled.

WiBE in @citycarclub carI also took possession of a second WiBE to hand over to Lindsey Annison for testing in the Cyberbarn and other remote parts of Cumbria, and Chris Conder had already received hers through the post, and was putting it through its paces around north Lancashire.

My initial impression was that the WiBE was getting an impressively stable signal in the car as I drove from Norfolk to Birmingham, but I didn’t really get a chance to put it through its paces until I reached the Cyberbarn in Warcop on the Wednesday evening. There, in a village where mobile signals are at best patchy, and half the households can get no broadband connection at all via landlines, the WiBE registered between 2 and 3Mbps in different locations.

But, the really impressive performance came on Thursday afternoon, at the Goats on the Roof Cafe. Jumping into the car after an impassioned meeting at Byers Green in County Durham, I headed up the A1, past Newcastle, turned off, and trusted the SatNav to take me to the right place. I was having doubts as the roads got windier and narrower, and seemed to go on for ever. But, then I saw the Goats on the Roof sign.

Goats on the roof sign

But, even then, there was a bit of doubt, as this led me on to a single-track road which seemed to take a long while to navigate. Then a reservoir came into view, with a wooden building in the foreground, which I was relieved to discover was the cafe in question.

Goats on the Roof CafeAs you can see, it was getting dark, and, unfortunately, I was not to be fortunate enough to see any actual goats on the roof. As I got out of the car, I thought that this had to be the most remote venue of the week, there wasn’t a house to be seen for miles.

Any way, I soon learned that the internet connectivity for the cafe, and for 11 other households in the area, was provided by the Fontburn Internet Project whose members share a 3Mbps connection which is bounced around the hills by wireless means.

At this point, I plugged in the WiBE, fully expecting it not to work at all, as, not only is there no landline connection at Goats on the Roof, I was told that no one gets a mobile signal out there. And this is where I, and everyone else present, reeled in astonishment, as the WiBE pulled in a signal in excess of 4Mbps. Here’s the proof.

Goats on the roof speedtest

And so, in an area where no one gets a mobile signal, and no one can watch youtube or BBC iPlayer, we were able to do a live video Skype call with Richard Dix and I was able to play “Frozen Planet” on iPlayer.

As the Speed Test says, the WiBE had turned Fontburn from one of the more difficult connectivity areas in the country, to one which was suddenly “Faster than 52% of GB”.

And, since then, Chris and Lindsey have been out testing their WiBE’s in remote areas, and getting similarly remarkable results. You can see some of Chris’s tests on Fibre the Dog’s Bambuser channel here.

So, there it is. I was honestly amazed with what the WiBE could do. I am not sure it is a long term solution for internet access, but, if it can take people, in an instant, from having no internet connection at all, to having 4Mbps, it has got to be worth checking out.

More about the WiBE here http://ruralbroadband.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=105

ADDITION

Just as an addition to this post, I checked out the mobile broadband coverage map for Goats on the Roof. It shows no signal coverage at all on the Three network.

Three Network Coverage for Goats on the Roof