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Connecting Cardiff with wi-fi

Source: Public Sector Executive Dec/Jan 2015

Elizabeth Mahoney, project manager of Super Connected Cardiff at Cardiff City Council, discusses the latest achievements and developments of the programme.

In 2012, the UK government announced that Cardiff was to be one of the first 10 cities to become ‘super-connected’ as part of its multi-million pound investment in superfast broadband.

By March 2015, the Welsh capital aims to have 200 public buildings benefitting from free wi-fi. According to the city council, the Public Building Wi-Fi Project aims to address digital inclusion and improve the visitor experience by making free wi-fi available in public buildings across Cardiff.

The roll-out is linked to the government’s £150m SuperConnected Cities programme, which itself is part of the wider Broadband Delivery UK scheme to transform broadband across the UK by 2017, with more than £1bn being spent on digital infrastructure.

The government says that by that date, 90% of the country will have access to superfast broadband (24Mbps-plus) and 100% of homes will have access to basic broadband (2Mbps-plus).

Public buildings

Elizabeth Mahoney, project manager of Super Connected Cardiff at Cardiff City Council, told PSE: “The deal with the public building wi-fi is that we’re going to do all the council public buildings: libraries, leisure centres where there is free entry, as well as waiting rooms in health centres and so on.”

There is also an application process for charities, as well as social enterprises, community interest companies, and community buildings like church halls. That application process is open until 31 December 2014, and is likely to provide for wi-fi at 200 buildings by March 2015.

“We’re currently at the survey stage and are starting the programme which will be ramped up in the next few weeks ready for delivery,” Mahoney said.

There are 30 public buildings in Cardiff that already benefit from free wi-fi, including Cardiff Castle, the Central Library, the New Theatre, St David’s Hall and City Hall. All will have their wi-fi upgraded as part of the project.

She added that all the buildings will be part of one Cardiff SSiD (Service Set Identifier) where people will be able to access free wi-fi in buildings and on the city’s streets.

Launched last year, the public street wi-fi has been one of Digital Cardiff’s most successful projects.

“We delivered 40 access points, as part of phase one, within two weeks,” said Mahoney.

“It was amazing really. We launched the project last Christmas and we’ve shared our tender and procurement route with other cities to help them.

“Reaction has been growing, and with street wi-fi we have around 20,000 users per month and we’re looking to promote that even more now.”

Such promotion is being targeted especially at potential tourists and inward investors, she said. “We’re also building a wi-fi map of the city so people can see where all the free wi-fi spots are.”

Cardiff City Council awarded both the on-street and public building tenders to BT to help join up the two initiatives, forming one “seamless” network.

On the buses

In addition to this work, the local authority is delivering wi-fi capability on buses serving Cardiff routes, ensuring an uninterrupted service for passengers travelling around the city.

The contract for providing and servicing bus shelters around the city has just been let to Icomera. A requirement of the project is for the supplier to provide a number of wi-fi access points to city centre bus shelters enabling passengers to track their bus.

Mahoney said: “We will be putting wi-fi on all the buses in Cardiff. The tender has just been let and we’ll be delivering that to around 230 buses before Christmas. We’re also creating an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in Cardiff. At the moment all internet traffic goes via London, so we’re trying to have an exchange in Cardiff so that it reduces the internet charges in the city.”

Most of the UK’s IXPs are in London, and none of the small number outside the capital are in south Wales. The need for all communications to be routed via London – even if both parties are actually in Cardiff – can cause delays, latency and higher costs for businesses and internet service providers. 

Cardiff Council has secured funding for a ‘peering grant’ scheme to help SMEs get access to the IXP via upgraded routers and digital infrastructure.

Connection Vouchers

The SuperConnected Cities programme offers ‘connection vouchers’ of up to £3,000 to help cover the capital costs of faster broadband for small businesses, charities and similar organisations. Cardiff’s implementation of that national scheme, which gives grants for organisations to get minimum speeds of 30Mbps on a shared line or 20Mbps dedicated, has been running for more than a year. It’s stimulated “quite a lot of interest”, Mahoney noted.

Alun Cairns MP, Wales Office minister, added: “I want Cardiff to have world class internet connectivity so businesses, families and visitors can take full advantage of the increasing demands of the digital age.”

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