A Midlands mill which helped to kick-start the Industrial Revolution is now playing a part in the Internet Revolution after it switched on what is believed to be the fastest Wi-Fi system in any museum in the world.
Derby’s Silk Mill, which stands on the site of the world’s first factory, can now offer visitors unprecedented internet connection speeds of 1GB per second, which is around 100 times faster than the UK average and will enable them access online content instantly and download films in a matter of seconds.
The official switch-on took place on 15 February 2014 as part of the city’s involvement in the UK’s Superconnected Cities project and coincided with a similar launch at the city’s Museum and Art Gallery.
The event saw the venues make their own piece of history by becoming the first buildings in Derby to receive their superfast internet connection wirelessly, via e-band microwaves transmitted at rooftop level and relayed to dozens of white boxes installed throughout the museums’ rooms and galleries.
The venues’ operators, the Derby Museums Trust, said not only will the switch-on will allow casual visitors to access free Wi-Fi and will enable local companies to hire out space in order to host video conferences, it will also help the Trust to shape the way it presents its exhibits – which include a vast collection of paintings by renowned 18th Century artist Joseph Wright of Derby.
This includes using using interpretation labels to direct visitors to online resources or seeking their views and answering questions, as well as harnessing their own networks via social media in order to engage with a wider audience.
At the Silk Mill, which is being relaunched as a venue which celebrates Derby’s rich industrial heritage and encourages a new generation of innovators, makers and creators, the Wi-Fi will enable visitors to share and promote their creative projects, thoughts and ideas instantly online.
The Trust is also pioneering the use of software which will track Wi-Fi users’ progress through the museums, giving feedback on visitor flow and dwell times, which can also be used when designing future exhibitions.
Jonathan Wallis, head of museums for the trust, said: “Visitors regularly use their mobile phones and tablets, but they’ve always been limited in what they can do by connection speeds or by the amount of data they’re allowed to access.
“Now, thanks to what we believe is the fastest internet connection offered by any museum in the world, they’ll enjoy near-instant access to online information and can immediately share what they see with their friends on social media, meaning that the internet will come into its own as part of the visitor experience.
“We are already experimenting to find out how we can harness this, whether it’s by bringing less-traditional voices and ideas to bear on our interpretation labels, or using data from the boxes to work out visitor behaviour while in the museum.
“Throughout the whole process, the internet will be central to opening up the debate with our visitors so that they can tell us what they think of each development and let us know what they would like to see in the future.”
The SuperConnected scheme was launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport two years ago and Derby is one of 12 UK cities to have signed up.
Communications minister Ed Vaizey said: “The Government’s SuperConnected Cities project is already helping museums and galleries to engage audiences in innovative and inspirational ways. We’ve allocated up to £150 million to provide a digital boost to super-connected cities like Derby, and I’m delighted that Derby now has one of fastest free public Wi-Fi services in a museum anywhere in the world.”
The museums’ Wi-Fi software was supplied and configured by London-based company PolkaSpots, whose managing director, Simon Morley, said: “It has been really exciting to be involved in such a great Wi-Fi project, which has taken public Wi-Fi to a whole new level.”
The Wi-Fi equipment was supplied by Meraki, a Cisco subsidiary, and the system is running through Virgin gigabit bearers.
Photo below: Jonathan Wallis, head of museums at Derby Museums, demonstrates how the venue’s new Wi-Fi connection will enable visitors to find out more about its exhibits, including its self-portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby.