Solihull Community Housing has implemented a combined wireless and internet-over-powerline service for residents in a group of multi-storey blocks.
SCH, which manages Solihull Metropolitan Council’s 11,000 homes, plans to deliver free or subsidised broadband internet access, using a combination of ‘leased lines in the sky’ wireless technology and internet connectivity via the residents’ existing electrical plug sockets. The project will also create a wireless hotspot which the council will use to attract local businesses to the area.
Chris Deery, head of IT, Solihull Community Housing, said, “One of our technical challenges was finding a low cost, low maintenance, reliable way of providing internet connectivity. We wanted to minimise the civil engineering work required to deliver broadband to the multi-storey buildings, as well avoiding disruption to individual tenants during implementation. We also wanted a solution with the ability to expand, so we could start with one building and roll it out to more tenants in future.”
The project is being implemented by CI-Net, a specialist in wide-area networking, using its RedKite wireless service which uses Pre-Wimax radio signals to deliver high-speed, symmetrical broadband without the need for cables. An existing RedKite radio base station in nearby Yardley will broadcast the signal to a receiver on the roof of one of the SCH multi-storey buildings. A ‘gateway’ within each building will then transfer the incoming signal to the electricity cables running to individual flats. Tenants will be given specially-designed connector units which can be plugged into any three-point electrical socket to provide connectivity.
An earlier proposal for the project, suggested by a major cable operator, involved running conventional broadband cable to the individual buildings. Internet connectivity could then be distributed to tenants’ homes by installing wireless routers on alternate floors to create a series of wireless networks throughout the buildings. Chris Deery said, “Running cable to individual buildings could have worked out more costly and problematic because it required digging up the road. RedKite allows a faster deployment across the sites, greater flexibility and actively reduces the need for civil engineering.”
Using the electrical infrastructure to feed Internet power to the flats avoids having to install routers to create wireless networks within the buildings. Chris Deery said, “We were a little worried about the routers, which would have been placed in stairwells or corridors, being at risk of damage or theft. We could have boxed them in for protection but that would have weakened the signal. The connectors that CI-Net is providing will be used within the safety of individual flats. And because they have a unique IP address identifying each user, there’s little chance they’ll be stolen as they have no resale value.”
SCH is receiving council funding for the initiative as well as applying for funding from the European Regional Development Fund to enable it to extend the service to more tower blocks. The charity ReCOM has agreed to provide re-cycled PCs for the project alongside computer and internet training from the Colebridge Trust for the residents.