The Cloud, one of Europe’s leading mobile Wi-Fi providers, has chosen Ruckus Wireless to supply Wi-Fi equipment for London’s citywide Wi-Fi network which expected to be completed just in time for the Olympics in 2012. The new Wi-Fi network, accessible to more than 350,000 city workers and visitors, is being used to provide more resilient and higher speed wireless services across 95% of the City of London as well as mobile data offload services.
Recently acquired by BSkyB, The Cloud offers Wi-Fi coverage across 12 European locations, in over 8,500 locations with 22,000 access points deployed in locations such as airports, hotels and railway stations. The Cloud operates large-scale networks in Canary Wharf, Amsterdam, Stuttgart and in nine other UK cities including Manchester and Edinburgh. Given the density of people and preponderance of wireless signals, the City of London is widely considered one of the most challenging areas in the world within which to provide reliable Wi-Fi services. “Within the City of London, new Wi-Fi enabled devices are connecting to public wireless networks at rates never seen before,” said Robert Mittens, Wireless Architect for The Cloud.
Worldwide Wi-Fi adoption and use has never been higher. The mobile broadband market has reached critical mass thanks to fast networks, innovative applications and powerful new device platforms. According to IHS iSuppli, a market research firm, shipments of devices embedded with Wi-Fi will top one billion for the first time in 2011, reaching 1.2 billion by the end of the year. This represents a 25.8% growth compared to 2010, when 880.4 million products with built-in Wi-Fi technology were shipped.
“We see this as a real opportunity to offer higher speed Wi-Fi services to consumers, managed wireless services to business and mobile data offload to operators,” said Mittens. He noted that these opportunities are driving providers like The Cloud to move to faster and more reliable Wi-Fi systems specifically developed for carriers to connect large numbers of users.
The Cloud’s network upgrade for the City of London replaces some 127 outdoor legacy BelAir Networks mesh nodes with new Ruckus ZoneFlex 7762 dual-band 802.11n mesh access points that are designed to be deployed onto existing street furniture including lamp posts and street signs. The Cloud is also offering Ruckus indoor ZoneFlex 7363 802.11n access points to its commercial customers as an attractive way to incentivise them to offer public Wi-Fi services. Now business can attract new customers while focusing on their core competence – eliminating monthly fixed-line costs, the need to manage network equipment and taking away the burden of having to provide audit trails on wireless usage.
The Cloud plans to use FlexMaster as a mass deployment tool for wireless deployments they are rolling out with select retail chains. FlexMaster is a centralized Wi-Fi service management platform that provides bulk configuration, detailed statistics and trending information for tens of thousands of discrete APs or entire wireless LAN systems. FlexMaster effectively eliminates any equipment configuration by the retailer or technical support by The Cloud. Devices can simply be shipped to the retailer who needs only to plug them into a power source. The wireless access points then automatically connect to The Cloud’s outdoor Wi-Fi network, register with FlexMaster and configure themselves automatically.
Extreme Wi-Fi Makeover, London Style
The existing Wi-Fi infrastructure within the City of London was based on legacy Wi-Fi technology from BelAir Networks that operated at a maximum data rate of 54Mbps. After deploying the network, to meet the requirements of the original project which was to provide 95% public Wi-Fi coverage in the public rights of way within the City of London, The Cloud was faced with increasing the number of network nodes, upgrading existing devices already deployed and migrating from a star-based to mesh topology.
“We wanted to exploit new standards and technologies that could deliver a more consistent and higher performance experience to our customers,” said Mittens. Consequently, The Cloud considered solutions from the main carrier-class Wi-Fi vendors. The Wi-Fi upgrade now makes use of new 802.11n technology that has been combined with patented Wi-Fi innovations designed to deliver stronger and longer-range signals that continuously adapt to changing environmental conditions. 802.11n technology operates at speeds of 300Mbps and higher.
From a technology perspective, the Cloud’s had three necessities for its next gen Wi-Fi infrastructure: 802.11n-capable outdoor mesh nodes capable of supporting clients on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands; resilient, self-optimizing and self-healing mesh capabilities and the ability to dynamically manage the RF environment. “Surprisingly, we found there were very few vendors able to support these requirements,” said Mittens.
According to The Cloud, the combination of aesthetics, physical characteristics and technical capabilities were key criteria in the Wi-Fi evaluation. “While Wi-Fi speed and coverage are essential to delivering a world-class Wi-Fi network, we learned that other competing requirements were equally important such as the space, size, weight, power and even the colour of the access points,” said Mittens. “When you’re dealing with multiple agencies within a public environment, things such as the visual impact of antennas, the ability to easily mount the devices, how much power they consume and how well they mesh or connect to other access points can be even more critical than price and performance. With Ruckus we’ve been fortunate not to have to make any tradeoffs in these areas,” concluded Mittens.
During its Wi-Fi evaluation process, the Cloud deployed Ruckus ZoneFlex 7762 outdoor dual-band 802.11n mesh access points within Waterloo station, one of Europe’s busiest railway station with 87 million annual patrons and more than 50,000 visitors each day during rush hour. Waterloo station is a noisy and unfriendly RF environment with thousands of simultaneous user connections that must be supported. During the testing, the Cloud found the Ruckus ZoneFlex system was able to support a much larger numbers of concurrent client sessions and deliver a two-fold improvement in signal coverage with better performance at longer ranges when compared to its legacy Wi-Fi network.