Local authorities using wireless technology to reduce costs

Wireless profiles a number of local councils that are using the latest wireless technology to reduce costs, boost network coverage and provide faster speeds

Local authorities using wireless technology to reduce costs

Wireless network saves Dundee over 50% of annual operating costs

With a population of 145,000, Dundee is the fourth largest city in Scotland. It covers some 60 square miles and houses the largest cluster of bio-tech industries in the UK outside Oxford and Cambridge, with 25% of its population being students.

Surprisingly, the IT budget is only £6m compared with the £27m of Edinburgh, which is twice the size of Dundee but has the same number of desktops.

Dundee had traditionally bought telecoms services from carriers like BT and Telewest, with the purchasing decision made purely on the grounds of price.

However, Ged Bell, head of IT at the council, realised that building a wireless broadband network would bring several benefits including more bandwidth, faster speeds and reduced costs. It would also be easy to expand wireless broadband networks as demand increases and new buildings were put up.  

To help solve the problem, Alvarion and Aerelink were appointed to design, build and maintain the network. Aerelink built the network using equipment from Alvarion’s BreezeACCESS VL for the 5.8 and 5.4 GHz spectrum for point-to-multipoint connectivity.   

Having first gone live in 2005, the network has continually expanded, with leased lines replaced by a wireless broadband link as they come up for renewal.

By April this year, more than 110 core council sites were connected including several libraries, schools, sports centres, social work offices, housing offices, public works and other council buildings.

St Andrews RC Primary School is typical of the schools that have benefited from the new wireless broadband network, having at least 10mbps of connectivity, with senior schools getting 100mpbs.

Each pupil also gets to go online every day and has access to netbooks, DS, Wii and PS3, while teachers and administrators are can use the internet to connect to central systems containing lesson guidance, and policies.

Before the move to wireless, the school shared a leased line from the nearest high school, meaning speeds were slow.

The main benefits to the council are resiliency and cost savings. In 2004, it was spending £250,000 on line rental, but with the cost of a wireless connection being less than half the cost of renting a leased line, by 2010 it was spending just £100,000 while connecting more sites at faster speeds.

By the end of the year, Bell says a complete migration to IP telephony is planned – something which will save another £330,000 per annum.

He explains that they’re also investigating how the wireless broadband network can be used for CCTV and traffic light management and that a new council HQ is being built, which will also be connected.

‘This network has saved us over 50% of our annual operating costs over the last three years,’ adds Bell.

Warwickshire Council cuts CCTV costs with wireless

Technology in safety cameras has moved on quite dramatically in the past few years from ‘wet film’ cameras – which needed developing – to a more digital answer.

At Warwickshire Council, senior engineer Andrew McGrath says the council was seeking cost efficiencies and a better way of transferring the data from the site to the police station.

‘There are two ways of doing this,’ he says. ‘Either through a landline or by using a wireless 3G option.’

Previously, says McGrath, police officers would go out every three days to change the film of the camera.

Now, following the implementation of a system from Wireless Logic, a harddrive within wireless cameras constantly updates the server at police headquarters of any offenders caught by the camera, with this being able to update anything from from once a minute to once a day.

‘Warwickshire is a relatively rural county and for one site we had to previously dig ducts up over a mile long, so if you imagine the construction costs on that, going wireless effectively saves these,’ he adds.

‘We looked into quite a few options in the past because we do a lot of other engineering work around the county apart from just putting cameras in the ground,’ he adds. ‘So one of the things we often find that we have problems with is that we go out on site with effectively just a pen and piece of paper.’

McGrath says Warwickshire is now considering linking this all by using tablets that can connect to its intranet, which has other information that they might not have on site, such as drawings.

‘If we are out on site and have the technology to connect to our base computers in the office we will be able to have a lot more information to hand when we’re driving an hour away to site visits,’ he adds.

‘The major thing why we would favour 3G over fixed line is the cost. Actually getting the stuff in the ground is quite expensive and if you don’t have a BT fixed-line running virtually next to the camera the cost can escalate dramatically,’ he says.

‘Secondly, you can get a Sim card set up, delivered and installed to a site within a matter of days,’ he adds. ‘You can’t get the same level of support with a line in the ground. Construction takes time, you need to book road space and there are a whole host of hoops to jump through first in order to get the hard-line in the ground.’

Oldham boosts coverage with CouncilNet

With a population of 220,000 spread over 55 square miles, Oldham’s existing analogue systems struggled to meet the demands of the public and private sector. The signal was poor and susceptible to malfunction, particularly during bad weather.  

As a result the council decided to look for a single, future-proof wireless radio network that it could own and rent out to local businesses like taxi firms. It was also felt that a public private partnership would be more reliable and cost-effective. At the core of this communications network lay the council’s Command and Control centre, which is situated in the heart of Oldham and responsible for managing civil emergencies and public security within the town centre.

Martyn Scholes, business development manager at Oldham Council, believes the Command and Control centre should be able to extend its radio coverage beyond the town centre to the outlying districts. ‘This means more people will be able to communicate directly with us to improve security, safety and emergency response in the wider Oldham area,’ he says.

The solution to Oldham’s problem came in the form of Arqiva’s CouncilNet solution, which used digital TETRA technology to cover the entire region and provide up to 1,000 users with secure push-to-talk voice calls and text messaging utilising Arqiva’s 412 MHz spectrum.  

As Steve Mace, sales director at Arqiva, explained, prior to this, organisations in Oldham were using and paying for mobile phones to satisfy the need for a wide-area two-way radio.

‘The local authority and businesses throughout the borough now benefit from a dedicated and cost-effective wide area network,” he says.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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