Understanding the challenges
Until 7 years ago, the 5000 residents and businesses of Strixton, and neighbouring villages of Wollaston and Denton had to make do with frustratingly slow, patchy connectivity. Businesses suffered, citing a lack of ability to compete with little or no access to the internet. Businesses looking to the web to drive awareness and sales in their products and services risked losing revenues unless they took matters into their own hands.
Dr Mike Goldsmith was one of these residents, trying to run a successful international health business working often from home, struggling with the poor service offered by the major service providers. Like many of his fellow residents in Northamptonshire, Mike was tired of waiting for the big players to provide high-speed services. Being somewhat of an entrepreneur, he hit upon the idea of building his own local network, built on an existing bonded 4Mb/s leased line.
Mike took on the running of a small fledgling network based on two bonded fibre lines of 2 Mb/s each, which had previously been used and paid for by the local community to provide basic broadband via a Wireless Wide Area Network (WAN) to local residents and businesses. His team of like-minded local volunteers supplemented by an IT professional friend, Alan Denton, who became VillageBroadbands’s Technical Director and masterminded the devopment of specialist expertise on the latest wireless technology.
This solved the problem for a while, but it became clear that 2 Mb/s between 40 people was not going to offer the kind of speeds needed. At the same time, the Board of VillageBroadband realised that there was an opportunity to build a service that would allow them to extend it beyond the current confines of Wollaston and the other four villages between Northampton and Wellingborough for which they were already providing service. They started investigating how to get a better, more resilient service, which wouldn’t involve the purchase of a costly new fibre line, and would enable them to commercialise the service in the future.
Mike and his team’s initial 2 Mb/s Wi-Fi enterprises met a number of short-term needs but the Directors were becoming increasingly keen to build on his small access network and so they embarked on the next stage of its development.
In 2008, Alan Denton, the Technical Director, engaged FluidOne to put in place a private ADSL circuit which would run on FluidOne’s powerful network. Along with a number of partners, VillageBroadband investigated a number of options, analysing a selection of providers against their specific requirements.
Dr Goldsmith said: “The solution had to be really flexible, provide us with ADSL, and not limit me to being able to commercialise VillageBroadband in the future – we had found that some of the larger network operators were particularly restrictive about this. We also wanted to work with a company that puts its customers first, rather than the bottom line, and so we found FluidOne to match these criteria, along with the strength of its network, which made them a natural partner.”
The team at VillageBroadband chose FluidOne to provide a 20 Mb/s ADSL line from which they could start to develop their own ingenious Wi-Fi network. Once FluidOne’s ADSL connection was in place, Mike and his team found a building in Wellingborough (six miles away), near the telephone exchange, and tall enough to transmit a signal back to Strixton with clear line of sight. With a successful wireless connection achieved, Village Broadband began to provide an average of 4 – 5 Mb/s from FluidOne’s one 20 Mb/s line
“Five years ago we were routinely providing five to 10 Mb/s in the downstream and one to two up – much more than bigger companies can provide even now. Our next challenge was to start to crank up the speed to meet the demand that our residents and businesses were now showing for quicker broadband.”
As the service started to gain popularity, it started to become overstretched and, as a result, unreliable. During busy periods, the service would stutter and, sometimes, fail. Increased consumption of video was seen as a real factor, as well as data-heavy activity from some local businesses. Mike began looking for a more powerful and scalable cable solution to meet this increased demand.
In September 2012, FluidOne started providing Village Broadband with 100 Mb/s superfast broadband via FluidOne’s fibre network. The cable comes into the farm and business park where VillageBroadband moved into the company’s new home, a local business park in Strixton, just 100 yards from where they used to be based and is then beamed wirelessly via a 5 GHz wireless network, transmitted from the farm in Strixton to Wollaston then to the surrounding villages. 3,500 residents and businesses are now able to receive, on average, a minimum of 10 Mb/s and many have 15 Mb/s, up and down, on VillageBroadband’s wireless WAN.
VillageBroadband has a tiered pricing and access structure:
Up to 10 Mb/s = £24 per month – suitable for residential usage
Up to 15 Mb/s = £30 per month – suitable for residential users or very small SMEs who need better bandwidth
Up to 20 Mb/s = £45–300 per month- suitable for larger businesses who need up to 70 gigabytes a month usage
Up to 30 Mb/s = £300-700 per month- suitable for data-heavy industries
VillageBroadband also offers a Fibre Direct option which retails at £1200- £1500 per month depending on specific requirements.This is being looked at seriously by Parish Councils who wish to provide services to their villages wirelessly.
“In the past, local small businesses were struggling to make 2 Mb/s, now we can guarantee 20 Mb/s up and down. What this means is that companies no longer have to rent expensive mid-town premises in order to guarantee decent broadband, with FluidOne’s network, we can offer better speeds than the main players now – something that we won’t see from them for the foreseeable future,” commented Dr Mike Goldsmith.
Since FluidOne started providing Village Broadband with 100 Mb/s superfast broadband, local residents and businesses have capitalised on the increased speeds. Local businesses, such as TaylorFitch, are experiencing real benefits as a result of the project.
TaylorFitch specialises in creating e-newsletters for local authorities and NHS trusts. Its clients include many County, Borough and District councils, as well as NHS trusts. As a result of this high-profile clientele, the company needs to ensure files are sent and received reliably – especially if they’re very data-heavy.
Jo Taylor, Founder, TaylorFitch said: “We have a number of very high-profile public sector clients, and so we have to be able to make sure we can deliver what we promise on time, every time. We’re dealing with publicly funded projects and so having decent connectivity allows us to deliver a premium service.
Before the new service was implemented, all the local businesses shared the same 2 Mb/s line, now we have enough bandwidth to go around and so we never worry about the network failing. We’re seeing our own productivity increase and this has enabled us to drive efficiencies into the service we deliver to our clients,” Taylor concluded.
In the future, Mike and his fellow Directors want to see the service adopted by other villages and which is why he is investing in more technology to aid this expansion. He now has the comfort and deassurance that the County Council now accept VillageBroader as a Faster Broadband Provider under the Rural Broadband initiative and other areas aeas in Britain are now contacting VillageBroadband for help and services. He has seen his portfolio of corporate clients increase exponentially. He said: “More and more businesses are moving in to the business park, and surrounding areas all the time which is bringing more income to plough back into the service. We have high hopes for the future as an example of how people can truly do it themselves and we couldn’t have done it without FluidOne.”