Cambridge Public Wi-Fi Launched

wifi08:06 Monday 23rd June 2014
BBC Radio Cambridge

[P]AUL STAINTON: Free wi-fi launching across central Cambridge today, ahead of the Tour de France arrival on July 7th. It’s been in place in Peterborough city centre for just under a year. Business and locals alike have said a lot of good things about it. Earlier we spoke to Neil Darwin, who’s the Director of Enterprise and Skills at the local enterprise partnership.
NEIL DARWIN: It’s about having a complete package for a city, which obviously is the line Cambridge is taking. We’re in such a connected world these days, and quite simply it’s something we need to have to be able to compete.
PAUL STAINTON: Let’s find out more now about the year-long pilot in Cambridge, and plans to extend it, should it prove a success. I’m joined in the studio by John Holgate, Head of Network at the University of Cambridge, and Noelle Godfrey, who’s Connecting Cambridgeshire Programme Director. Morning.
BOTH: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: A lot of titles to contend with this morning, it has to be said. That’s a mouthful. Connecting Cambridgeshire Programme Director. It’s a big title. It’s a big title. John first of all, explain to those who are unclear about what exactly wi-fi is, and how are they going to benefit from this.

JOHN HOLGATE: Wi-fi, certainly the technology we’re using, is exactly the same as people would expect in their homes. It’s a wireless form of communication, effectively allows you to get your smart phone, your tablet, your laptop, connected to the internet.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. Ok. And how are you going to make this happen in the middle of Cambridge then?
JOHN HOLGATE: Well it already is happening in the middle of Cambridge. Today is the launch day. We have been running for a couple of weeks now, quietly, and we’ve seen lots of people connect. And we’ve worked in collaboration in Cambridgeshire, the City Council, the County Council and a lot of local people to make this happen.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s the point of it? Why bother? We’ve got 3G and all that sort of stuff, haven’t we?
JOHN HOLGATE: Certainly. There’s two aspects from our perspective. One is the extension of the University academic network. And that’s about allowing students, academics, visiting academics, to access all of the resources that they would expect on the roam. But it’s also allowing the public. It’s about making Cambridge an easy place to visit, where you can get high speed wireless access. So this is much faster than 3G. This is much greater capacity and bandwidth.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. Ok. It’s going to be available in areas like Parkers Piece, Market Square, Senate House Hill ..
PAUL STAINTON: And those sort of places.
PAUL STAINTON: So where people generally congregate.
JOHN HOLGATE: Absolutely. Where we’d expect people to come. And it ties in nicely with the Tour de France. Parker’s Piece is where the Grand D├ępart starts. And then the wireless will be available effectively where the Tour is going, right through the heart of Cambridge.
PAUL STAINTON: I spoke to Neil Darwin earlier from Peterborough, and he was saying that they’ve had their wi-fi for about nine months or so now. But only about 100 people a day are using it. Is that good value for money?
JOHN HOLGATE: So we have, like I’ve mentioned before, we’ve been running for a couple of weeks on the academic network. We started the free public wi-fi last Wednesday. And last week we’ve seen 50,000 devices connect to the wireless network.
PAUL STAINTON: In just a week?
JOHN HOLGATE: In a week. We’ve seen academics from 300 different institutions, 180 of them international. So we’ve seen visitors from all around the world, coming and using our wireless network, and that’s before we’ve even promoted the fact that it’s live and available.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s going to be a huge thing with the Tour de France here, isn’t it?
JOHN HOLGATE: Hopefully, yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Will it be able to cope?
JOHN HOLGATE: We’ll see, wont we? We’ll be tracking the information and the data closely. But this is about .. it was tied in with having it live for the day of the Tour de France. But this is very much about a legacy. This is about having Cambridge, bringing Cambridge into a connected city.
PAUL STAINTON: Without getting too technical though, you need big bandwidth, don’t you?
JOHN HOLGATE: You need enormous bandwidth. Absolutely, Fortunately at the University of Cambridge we have enormous capacity, internet access capacity. We don’t know quite how many people are going to be coming on the day to see the Tour de France. It’s impossible to say.
PAUL STAINTON: A couple of hundred. (LAUGHS)
JOHN HOLGATE: Yes. A couple of hundred. Maybe more. And we don’t know whether people will just be watching it passively or whether they’ll be recording it, or whether they’ll be interacting with social media at the time. So we don’t know. But we’ll watch and see.
PAUL STAINTON: Now Noelle, was this all inspired by the Tour de France? Is that why we’re getting it in Cambridge?
NOELLE GODFREY: Yes, absolutely it was. The Tour de France was the catalyst really for us to start this collaboration with Cambridge University. Although I think as you know it’s part of a much broader programme for connectivity across the whole of Cambridgeshire, including superfast broadband, mobile and wi-fi. So it’s part of a much bigger programme, but this particular collaboration, yes, it was inspired by the Tour de France coming here.
PAUL STAINTON: There will be people listening to this this morning in various rural parts of our county going, oh it’s fine for Peterborough, it’s fine for Cambridge. They’ve got all that bandwidth. They’ve got all that wi-fi. I can’t even get online to do my shopping.
NOELLE GODFREY: Well I think, as you’ll know, there’s many people now who are able to get online, because the superfast broadband roll-out programme is going very well. And we’ve already hit I think it’s 20,000 homes already who didn’t have access this time last year who now do.
PAUL STAINTON: What sort of places are we talking about?
NOELLE GODFREY: Places like Soham and Littleport, Pidley cum Fenton is one of them.
PAUL STAINTON: Always sticks in the mind.
NOELLE GODFREY: Yes. There’s a whole lot of places across the county. And the launch of course, the first place it went was Grafham Water, where they had no connectivity before. And now they’ve got superfast broadband.
PAUL STAINTON: My theory is thus. That 3G in Peterborough is great. I don’t even bother logging on to the Peterborough wi-fi when I’m in Cathedral Square because 3G is fast enough for me, and it’s a messing about. But 3G in Cambridge is appalling, isn’t it? So is that why so many more people are using the wi-fi here do you think?
NOELLE GODFREY: We don’t have very good coverage of 3G, that’s certainly true. But as John mentioned, the wi-fi service that they put up is much faster than 3G. So you can get a better service anyway, even if we had the right kind of coverage in Cambridge.
PAUL STAINTON: So how much faster John?
JOHN HOLGATE: How much faster? So we’re using the very latest wireless technology standards. Some of the equipment we’ve installed came fresh off the first batch off the production line in April. It will go up to 300Mbps for individual machines. Each access point will handle over a gigabit. So it’s very fast.
PAUL STAINTON: So you could do anything on it, basically.
JOHN HOLGATE: Pretty much. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Watch films, anything you like.
JOHN HOLGATE: Yes, if you wanted to.
PAUL STAINTON: My producer wants to know if it’s safe?
JOHN HOLGATE: Well I don’t think it will harm you, if that’s the question.
PAUL STAINTON: (TO PRODUCER) Is that the question? (LAUGHS) I don’t know.
JOHN HOLGATE: We’re running two different networks over there. One is an academic network, which is available exclusively to students, academics, researchers. And that’s not just University of Cambridge, that’s Anglia Ruskin, visiting academics. And the other is a free public wi-fi. And that’s being posted by the cloud. And that is appropriately content-filtered, so it’s appropriately suitable for people of all ages to come and use. perfectly safe.
PAUL STAINTON: When you say appropriately content-filtered, what do you mean by that?
JOHN HOLGATE: Well it’s as you would expect from any cafe, any restaurant where you go and use the local wi-fi. It would be limited as to the content you should get.
PAUL STAINTON: And obviously if this is a success, which it seems to be already, 50,000 people ..
JOHN HOLGATE: We think so, yes. Absolutely.
PAUL STAINTON: .. is this going to stay?
JOHN HOLGATE: We would like not only for it to stay, but ideally we’d like to see it expand. we’d like to go to other parts of Cambridge. But again it depends how popular it is.
PAUL STAINTON: I think my producer’s question was with regard to his person details. Is it safe? Will it be a safe environment to go on-line and bank on it. Is it a secure network?
JOHN HOLGATE: It is a secure network. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Ok. Brilliant stuff. Well listen, we wish you all the best with it, because that’s one of the biggest things that puts people off, isn’t it, wi-fi? People don’t, particularly older listeners don’t, think it’s secure. They think their details are going to get robbed and taken. But you can put their minds at rest.
JOHN HOLGATE: We can. Absolutely.
PAUL STAINTON: Good stuff. Thank you for coming in this morning. Appreciate that. And good luck with it. It seems like it’s a roaring success already, to be honest with you. That’s Noelle and John, John Holgate, Head of Network at the University of Cambridge, and Noelle Godfrey, Connecting Cambridgeshire Programme Director. She said earlier as well, don’t be too envious with the wi-fi in Cambridge and Peterborough, because they’re rolling out broadband right across the county of Cambridgeshire as we speak. And hopefully in the not too distant future everybody will have a very strong very fast internet connection.