Alton BroadBand came about when a group of Chedworth Place residents decided that the service they were receiving from their internet suppliers was just not good enough. Living on a Grade II listed estate, satellite dishes were not an option and DSL was far too expensive.
When these residents heard that the local school was one of only two in the whole of Suffolk who would not be provided with a fibre-optic connection, and that BT OpenReach would charge a six-figure sum for supplying fibre to the local cabinet, they decided to investigate alternatives.
One scheme which looked promising was that offered by a company in Yorkshire called Clannet . . . they plug into a good internet connection and then use the latest wireless technology to 'beam' the signal to areas which have no hope of getting a decent telephone-wire based connection to broadband.
So the residents clubbed together, each investing a four-figure sum into Alton BroadBand to commission the installation of the necessary hardware to enable this service to begin. In return, they would receive 'free' internet access. Once the system had been up-and-running for a while - and all the bugs and problems had been solved - the service was offered to local residents for a monthly fee that was very competitive with their existing service - but a lot better!
progress so far
It is now 10 years since we formed the company and we are providing super-fast broadband to almost 50 households in our village and beyond. This is beamed wirelessly from our super-fast 3000Mbps connection in Chedworth Place to St Mary's Church tower and the Wheatsheaf pub, then to other relays placed strategically around the village and from any of these access points to residents' properties.
mathematics of broadband
You may think that a single broadband connection is of little use as, if there are two people connected, the speed is halved, if four then it is quartered and so on . . . so with 20+ subscribers, we would be back where we started. YOU WOULD BE WRONG! All network connections work on packets . . . a packet of information is sent to you . . . you then send back an acknowledgement that you have received the packet fine . . . then the next packet is sent to you. While you have been sending this acknowledgement back, many other people have received their packets . . . then they send their acknowledgement . . . and so it goes on. The quicker the line speed (ie 300Mbps), the shorter that packet (burst of information) is and, therefore, the more packets can be sent every single second.
BT had an existing direct cable connection to properties in Stutton Lane - unlike the Heath and the Church part of our village which was supplied by a cable which runs via the Bull at Brantham. This meant that Stutton Lane properties had a much shorter connection to the Holbrook exchange in Stutton village . . . and therefore a much better broadband connection.
We used this connection node in Stutton Lane, comprising of three broadband connections feeding into a router. This in turn went into a PFsense box, which acted as a gateway, load balancer etc and from there to a server which supplied the information requested from its clients. This server also allowed the remote management and restriction of client connections, as well as monitoring of system performance and client demands.
From this point, an aerial transmitted all data to and from an access point which is visible to all clients - in our case, the church tower. The equipment here consisted simply of two aerials . . . one to send/receive with our connection node and the other to send/receive with the clients. There was no further equipment at the church tower and the only management required was to turn the equipment off and on again if there was a problem.
Finally, the clients have an aerial which sends and receive information with the aerial on the church tower. This can be located either in a window, in the loft or outside the home, such as on the TV aerial mast. This piece of kit is uniquely identified so that only it can connect, ensuring the security of the system and its subscribers. You can then connect your computers by ethernet cable or a wireless router so you can connect anywhere in your house . . . the choice is yours.
When Suffolk Better Broadband commissioned BT Openreach to install fibre to a cabinet on the A137, adjacent to the Wheatsheaf public house, we were worried this might mean the end of our service to the community. But not a bit of it! The vast majority of our customers said they wanted to stay with us . . . and they now enjoy as good a service as anyone who switched to BT's fibre offering.
BT then decided to install a trial fibre-optic service to households in the village - and still we kept many of our customers.
We now have one direct fibre connection in Chedworth Place - currently running at around 300Mbps - with a backup fibre to the cabinet service at the Wheatsheaf and this is beamed to several points around the village for our customers to connect.
The system has been operating in Yorkshire for several years and was developed by Nick Hall. He researched the subject of wireless connectivity while studying for an HNC in computing at Selby College and teamed up with a fellow student, Dean Welbourn, to take it beyond research and into reality. Together they identified Biggin as a village which would not get BT broadband, and set up a wireless system which now caters for 40 clients out of a population of 55 . . . with a third of those residents being home workers whose connection is critical - relying as they do on the connection for their business.
The Welcoms network now extends to Mickleover, where usage is at a peak, but the system still copes, despite being connected by a line-of-sight wireless connection of over eight miles!
Welcoms helped install and commission the new system and supplies second line support for the entire system. They also ensure that we are aware and able to take advantage of any future developments in broadband or wireless technology - such as new high-speed wireless equipment which will alow us to exploit the bandwidth available on our fibre supply. Nick and Dave offer the first line of support, helping people configure their computers and troubleshooting connections with the access points, as well as helping new subscribers connect to the system, backed by Lloyd, who helped develop the system but has now moved from the village - but still offers support.
With the number of subscribers standing at almost 50, the overall running costs of the system are covered, so funds are set aside to ensure a sufficient stock of spare parts and to cover any future equipment needs for enhancing the set-up, usually when the Welcoms team make their annual visit to check, test and often upgrade the equipment.