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The Evolution of External Public Wireless Access

Wireless internet access is now commonplace in the home and the workplace but external networks in public places are limited and often incur a cost to the user. The demand for public WiFi access has grown substantially over the last few years and WiFi is now viewed as an expected service rather than a luxury in most public areas.

Councils are investing in the reinvigoration of High Streets and for many, providing a reliable public WiFi solution plays a part in this. WiFi access can benefit shoppers, businesses and also the councils themselves. The drive towards “Smart Cities” across the UK is heavily linked to the belief that they are a catalyst for positive change for everyone associated with the host city. Many Councils include the deployment of a public WiFi solution as part of their smart city initiatives. 


The Challenges of deploying a City Wide Public WiFi

When designing and implementing a city wide Public WiFi network there are many challenges that can arise. During the initial planning stages, many councils are concerned about the aesthetics of the access points and the impact that the network might have on the local area. One of Pinacl’s first Smart City deployments was in the City of York. York is renowned for its history therefore we had to adhere to a number stringent heritage guidelines.

The access points for the Wireless network had to be unobtrusive as possible and conform to guidelines set by the council and other stakeholders. Pinacl chose Ruckus as their preferred Wireless partner for the City of York mainly because the Access Points (AP’s) are small/discreet yet deliver resilient coverage. The AP’s also come in different colours which meant we could select the best colour for each environment (e.g. lampposts).

Another challenge that can arise when implementing city wide WiFi is the network design. One technique that is commonly used in network design is ‘Meshing’. Wireless mesh networks are ideal when deploying city wide WiFi because it doesn’t require as many Access Points with direct wired Ethernet connections enabling a larger area to be covered more cost effectively. 

How Wireless Mesh Networks Work

A mesh network consists of root AP’s which require power and have wired Ethernet connections back to the main network. Mesh AP’s only require power and to be positioned with a direct line of sight to a root AP or another mesh AP. The mesh network should be designed to minimise mesh hops as the available bandwidth will half at each hop.

Smart Mesh Networking dramatically simplifies, speeds up and reduces the cost of WLAN deployments. With Smart Mesh Networking, all that’s required is to simply plug the Zone Flex access points into convenient power sources and allow the mesh AP’s to connect to a preferred root AP. In York the network was designed to ensure that each mesh AP has a direct or indirect path to more than one root AP. 

What technology ensures consistent outdoor coverage?

The Ruckus access points provide many benefits in York ensuring consistent experience for users. York is a busy city and each access point needs to be capable of providing internet access to a high number of concurrent users and associated visitors. The access points that were chosen for York are each capable of managing up to 500 concurrent users. This is essential for a city wide WiFi deployment as some areas will be dense and will require the capabilities to support a high number of users at any given time.

The Ruckus access points also provide BeamFlex technology which is extremely beneficial to outdoor AP’s. BeamFlex is a patented technology from Ruckus which dynamically shapes the antenna to provide a more accurate signal to each end user device. BeamFlex adaptive technology basically means that the antenna can be electrically manipulated to create optimal antenna patterns for each connected device. This ultimately mitigates any radio interference, noise, and network performance issues and provides increased performance and range of the AP’s.

Finally, the Ruckus access points that were used in York also contain Dual Polarity technology. Dual polarity ensures that a mobile device will receive a more reliable connection irrespective of the device orientation. 

Enhancing Public Services with City wide WiFi

Councils can use the network to provide additional services to the public while also gathering essential business information. One example would be to apply a footfall counter to monitor shopping areas and apply different business rates for businesses that see less passing traffic. A smart WiFi network enables councils to run other services over the network such as Digital Signage, CCTV Systems and Kiosks.

Many Smart Cities now offer a free council app that provides additional services to the public. By utilising the City WiFi network the app can feed real time updates to devices to provide valuable information such as transport delays. These city apps can consolidate information such as tourist information, interests, and promote commercial zones which will ultimately generate value to citizens. Pinacl offer Hosted Public Wireless Solutions which provides a low cost entry for cities to provide enterprise class WiFi solutions to its citizens. If you would like to know more about our Managed WiFi solutions, visit our case study page which provides an overview of our York, Newport, and Aberdeen deployments, or email enquiries@pinaclsolutions.com