An in-depth look at a complex WiFi deployment in an urban environment
Pinacl Solutions UK Limited, one of the UK’s leading ICT systems integrators, Purple, the intelligent spaces company, and Ruckus Wireless, the global WiFi technology pioneer, have delivered a secure and legal Social WiFi, marketing and analytics solution in the City of York.
Two years on we decided to revisit this project to find out what we’ve learned.
In summary, the solution has delivered:
- Complexity – due to the scale of the project and English Heritage restrictions, the network had to be designed from the ground up using a dark fibre network and Ruckus access points.
- Scale – the city attracts 7 million visitors per year as one of the most visited tourist destinations in the UK.
- Innovation – the project in York is innovative because of the network, the marketing and analytics platform, the Friendly WiFi scheme, location analytics, Eduroam access for university students and the funding model.
Complexity and scale in the deployment
The deployment in York is part of Pinacl’s growing smart city WiFi brand, CityConnect. CityConnect WiFi is also available in the UK cities of Newport and Aberdeen.
There are 69 access points live in York. Large parts of the city centre have fast, free WiFi available, covering 6 park and ride facilities, Museum Gardens, The Shambles, York University, York Minster, Rowntree Park, Museum St, York Train Station, Parliament St and Davygate.
The fully supported service is free for users 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The wireless infrastructure was both complex and innovative. Pinacl installed a dark fibre network across the city before the WiFi deployment could begin. The dark fibre network provides high speed and capacity, laying the foundation for a reliable and fast WiFi service.
The WiFi deployment uses a mesh of Ruckus equipment, which is ideal for large outdoor areas as they provide high levels of wireless coverage, data throughput and performance. Special consideration had to be taken to make sure that the access points blended into the historic city’s unique environment and met English Heritage guidelines, even down to changing the colour of the APs.
Upload and download speeds on York’s WiFi are unrestricted, reaching up to 200 MB/S. The service is of such high quality that it supports streaming services such as BBC iPlayer.
Innovation applied in the deployment
There are six elements which demonstrate innovation in the WiFi deployment in York.
- Innovative network
As described above, the network was designed from the ground up. Pinacl recognised the importance of laying the right foundation to support a fast, free WiFi service across the city, which is why they initiated the design and installation of a dark fibre network before the WiFi deployment began.
Another factor that makes the network so innovative is its scale – even though the network covers much of the city, it is still fast, reliable, secure and the user experience is paramount. This was made possible due to Pinacl and Purple’s combined expertise, and the decision to use Ruckus access points in a mesh network solution.
2. World’s first ‘Friendly WiFi’ city
Applying Purple’s content filtering to the CityConnect WiFi service also saw that York is recognised as the world’s first ‘Friendly WiFi’ city, having been accredited by the Friendly WiFi scheme. This means that wherever CityConnect is available in the city, inappropriate material is always blocked, ensuring that the WiFi is family friendly at all times.
- Purple’s marketing and analytics platform
Purple is an intelligent spaces company. Purple provide access to WiFi, real-time analytics and marketing tools for physical space owners that want to engage with visitors and better understand their space.
Purple’s analytics platform means that Pinacl and City of York Council can see which areas of the city have the highest footfall.
Using the analytics, Pinacl has been able to identify where people connect the most.
- On Museum St and Museum Gardens – the main route into the city centre from the train station
- As they are entering or leaving York train station
- On Parliament St and Davygate, where the city’s events are normally held
This allows Pinacl to feedback to the Council in support of tourism marketing campaigns based on footfall and dwell time in different areas of the city, and justify spend to advertisers.
- A multicultural solution
York is a hugely popular tourist destination, with 7 million people visiting the city every year. It’s estimated that 2 million of these visitors are of Chinese origin, so Purple’s option to present the login process and landing pages in Mandarin or Simplified Chinese was a big advantage. Purple supports 24 different languages so the login automatically changes when the system recognises a visitor from another country.
- University ‘Eduroam’ access
Another part of the initial deployment phase was Pinacl extending coverage to York University. Over 1000 students log in to CityConnect every day, demonstrating how valuable this service has become. Providing access to Eduroam means that students can access their work anywhere the WiFi is available. This doesn’t just apply to York University’s students either; students of any university using Eduroam can access their work wherever CityConnect is available in the city centre. It’s therefore particularly useful that upload and download speeds on York’s WiFi are unrestricted, reaching up to 200 MB/S.
- The funding model
The WiFi service is a completely concession-based model. There was no cost to City of York Council, Pinacl took on the project by applying for and receiving funding from BDUK to support the deployment. They have been replicating this model across the UK with their growing smart city WiFi brand, CityConnect.
The WiFi service has been free from the start, and will always be free to access. There are no caps for usage or bandwidth, and people can access the WiFi 24/7. Considering that the WiFi service has been running in the City of York for two years this month, this demonstrates a solution that’s not only having a huge market impact on a large percentage of the city’s population and visitors, but one that’s sustainable too
Pinacl are currently exploring ways to commercialise the network through targeted sponsorship to keep relevant content for the audience whilst ensuring sponsors see a return on investment.
Market impact in terms of population size
York has an estimated population of 200,000 people. Few cities in the world can rival it for history and character, with a history stretching back over 2000 years. York’s ancient city walls, connections to Roman emperors and stonework still peppered with cannonball scars from the English Civil War attract 7 million visitors every year.
Currently, we see an average of 2,500 logins per day, and this number has grown exponentially as more residents and tourists have been made aware of the service.
Pinacl is currently working in partnership with City of York Council and Visit York, the city’s tourism service, on various social media campaigns to promote the city’s events in conjunction with where WiFi is available. This has further strengthened the relationship with the City of York Council and Visit York, who both continue to support and promote the free WiFi service.
The WiFi service is seen as a huge benefit for both the local community in York and for its visitors. The vision is to have 100% coverage inside the city walls.
Businesses are also able to subscribe to the service to enable them to gain further insight into their customer base. They are able to target real time discounts and special offers to customers, via a cost effective hotspot that delivers the CityConnect service into their business.
Roy Grant, the City of York Council’s Head of ICT said: “Having access to free WiFi is essential for a thriving business community in today’s marketplace and the high quality network is incredibly useful for both residents and visitors to York. The network has proven to be an invaluable resource in supporting the council’s work to further understand and monitor how the city centre is used in order for us to maximise this and support the city to prosper and grow.”