Wales & West Housing is rolling out a Cisco Meraki-based free wi-fi network spanning 120 locations across Wales.
Richard Troote, head of ICT, Wales & West Housing, said, “The government’s digital inclusion strategy, which aims to get 90 per cent of the UK population online digitally capable by 2020, is very relevant to us. Almost half of our residents don’t have access to the internet.”
As part of the ‘digital by default’ agenda, WWH committed itself to provide its tenants, guests and staff with internet access. However, the cost of expanding its existing wireless architecture to accommodate the additional users would have been prohibitively expensive, in terms of wireless controllers, VPN infrastructure and IT staff resources, so the housing provider considered other alternatives, including Cisco Meraki.
Troote said, “Cisco Meraki’s proposition was very compelling. The ability to manage thousands of wireless access points, across numerous locations, on an extremely intuitive web-based interface ticked all of our requirements.
“The access points met our requirements but what we were really taken aback by was the ease of installation. We immediately realised that we could roll out Meraki access points across all of our locations with the limited IT personnel we have.”
Meraki access points can be configured entirely using the web-based dashboard so that there is no need to physically interact with the devices. In this way, access points can be deployed without any onsite IT staff.
So far, WWH has deployed Meraki wi-fi across almost 20 of its locations in Wales, with another 100 expected to be added soon. Before installation at a new WWH site, a survey is carried out to determine the optimal placements for the wireless access points. Typically, when a new location is going live, the network configuration is completed centrally by the ICT team and onsite installation is carried out by non-IT staff.
Troote said, “There are no IT staff at 99.9 per cent of our locations so being able to deploy, support and maintain the network remotely using the Meraki dashboard is ideal.”
The majority of sites have two secured SSIDs, one for staff and one for tenants. WWH also use Meraki Systems Manager to manage employee devices. This is a free mobile device management tool integrated into the same dashboard used for managing wireless access points.
Troote said, “Employee devices are configured using Systems Manager for access to the employee SSID. This allows them to roam seamlessly across sites and access corporate resources whenever they’re at a WWH location. And for tenants, we’re providing them with simple, reliable and cost-effective wi-fi.
“Features such as the custom DNS filtering and layer 7 firewall capability built into the Meraki dashboard help us to provide what we consider to be an appropriately family-safe network environment for our tenants. The location analytics and summary reporting also gives us some idea of how internet access is helping our tenants.”