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Northumberland flying by wire

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Northumberland CC delivers services to the 300,000 people throughout England’s most northerly shire, living across a vast area from the Tyne and Wear conurbation to the Scottish Borders.

Before 2008, Northumberland relied largely on leased lines for their internet connectivity and, as they operate from hundreds of sites throughout the county, this proved to be a very expensive solution.

Through researching alternative options, the council discovered that by switching from these separate leased lines to a more cost-effective wireless delivery they could also take advantage of a variety of other benefits across the authority.

By investing in a wireless mesh network platform, the council now offers shared services for its multiple offices and boosted home worker capabilities to its staff.

The county also wanted to offer region-wide connectivity which could be utilised by the local business community, a service which would have been impossible under their previous method of connectivity. It began developing the ‘Northumberland Open Network’ to bring secure and resilient wireless connectivity to the region with the aim of delivering a managed costs effective high-speed network with provision for multiple stakeholder groups.

Several hundred nodes were installed on top of buildings and in remote locations across the county. Starting in the key towns of Alnwick and Berwick, our team integrated a wide range of council premises including registrars, schools, libraries, colleges, local businesses, social services, highways depots and fire stations.

As a result, the council has been able to save hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum compared with the previous cost of leased lines. A second major benefit of using a wireless mesh is that hubs can be rapidly decommissioned and redeployed. When new buildings are acquired or existing buildings vacated, hardware can be installed or removed quickly without expensive disconnection or reconnection fees.

These savings are compounded by the indirect savings realised through IT centralisation and simplified network management. This work is unique as the technology has never been deployed on this scale anywhere else in the UK.

The wireless mesh is delivering cost efficiencies, resilience and the opportunity for mobile and home working options for council employees. Such a strategy can be applied nationwide to the benefit of the wider public sector bodies and not just the local authorities.

Robin Price, managing director, KBR

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