Wifinity secures £10m in funding from Clydesdale Bank

London, UK, 23 February 2017 – Wifinity, the fast-growing innovative wireless ISP, today announced £10 million funding from Clydesdale Bank in order to continue its growth in delivering superfast, robust wireless connections to businesses in some of the UK’s most remote areas.

The funds will allow Wifinity to continue its development of pay-as-you-go services for the holiday park industry, upgrade its networks at MOD sites across the UK and Germany, and invest in new technology in order to deploy the best networks are available for businesses no matter where they are based.

“By entering a long-term business relationship with Clydesdale Bank, we can continue to respond to market opportunities as they arise, as we have since founded the business in 2007. Since that time we have delivered WiFi to more than 1,500 buildings in 120 locations with more than 120,000 devices connecting to our networks each month. Each network has different complexities based on location and the make up of sites so it is critical we constantly innovate in order to deliver the superfast WiFi to any business,” said Aubone Tennant, co-CEO, Wifinity.

Mark Cook, Director of Corporate and Structured Finance, Clydesdale Bank, said: “We are delighted to have supported Wifinity with a new £10 million funding package that provides investment in this successful, fast-growing and innovative business. Clydesdale Bank funding will enable management to drive the business forward and expand into new contracts and markets”

Wifinity provides superfast, robust WiFi connections to businesses in some of the UK’s most remote and hard-to-install locations, including schools, holiday parks, care homes, retailers and military barracks. Wifinity’s customers include: the MOD: Park Resorts; Harvey Nichols; Serco; RedCentric; and Holiday Resort Unity. It has installations at key sites including: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, RAF Cranwell and Britannia Royal Naval College.

In the past year Wifinity won the Best Consumer Customer Service award at the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) Awards, was listed on the Sunday Times Tech Track 100 and won the Megabuyte Emerging Stars – Best Performing Company Telecoms and Networks.

About Wifinity

Wifinity is a fast-growing, innovative Wireless ISP. It provides superfast, robust WiFi connections to businesses in some of the UK’s most remote and hard-to-reach campus-based locations, including schools, holiday parks, key worker accommodation, hospitals, care homes and military barracks.

Wifinity solves the problem of getting fast connections to areas and organisations that are under serviced by the big ISPs, and where security and resilience are paramount. It is vendor-agnostic, and works with different technologies and networks to provide a bespoke WiFi solution (including the backhaul infrastructure needed to deliver that WiFi) to each customer. This makes it much more able to solve specific connectivity problems than most providers with a standard solution. This also means that different technologies can be used to suit a specific partner’s portfolio.

 

WiFi doesn’t have to break the bank

We recently visited the Holiday Park Show and were reminded that there are still a lot of places in the UK that don’t have WiFi access or even mobile phone coverage.

 

While the larger parks have deployed WiFi at least across common areas, many of the smaller parks are struggling to justify the cost, despite the demand from customers. Yet when the larger ISPs can’t justify the cost of laying a network in remote areas, some holiday destinations can suffer. What’s more, many big broadband providers can’t deal with the complexity of creating high-speed WiFi connections in metal-framed caravans or holiday homes.

 

Having a strong, stable WiFi connection has become a deal-breaker for many holiday goers. Families are used to having a variety of devices on hand to quell tensions during raining summer days, or for mum and dad to check-up on their work emails, but using iPads and smartphones can become expensive (or impossible) if there’s no WiFi to connect to.

 

WiFi is also useful for holiday park operators: knowing that customers are connected means they can send out promotional information to holidaymakers to let them know about new deals, or the day’s activities in the park. They can also use the network to ensure staff are where visitors need them to be, and vending machines are kept fully stocked, enhancing the experience of holidaymakers.

 

Getting a network in place

 

Before moving onto developing a smart park which we looked at in a previous blog, it is crucial to get the basics right. And it doesn’t have to involve the park paying for the network.

 

Wifinity thrives on the challenge of creating WiFi networks to some of the most remote, hard-to-reach areas of the UK. No holiday park is the same, so Wifinity uses a combination of the best technologies available to provide the most appropriate solution for each location.

 

We also offer different pricing models to suit the parks financial needs. There doesn’t have to be a significant investment upfront to be able to offer WiFi to customers.

 

Holiday parks can provide high-grade WiFi to their customers in three ways:

 

  1. On a Pay-as-you-go basis, where Wifinity puts in the infrastructure and collects the revenue from holidaymakers. This is a low cost, low risk option for holiday parks.

 

  1. Using a Wireless-as-a-Service model, whether the holiday park buys connectivity from Wifinity (and can either charge customers on a Pay-as-you-go basis, or as part of site fees or caravan rental), thus increasing revenue generation. This is a low-risk option, as all support and technology upgrades are included in the service.

 

  1. Using a hybrid model, where the park pays for part of the infrastructure and takes a share of revenue. This gives the park greater control over the infrastructure and ability to set pricing. It also allows the park access to the analytics to enable them to promote activities or offers to customers.

 

Establishing a secure and stable WiFi connection brings considerable benefits for holiday parks, and the cost doesn’t need to break the bank. It’s an investment well worth considering as our culture becomes more connected.

WiFi for social housing

Should social housing landlords provide WiFi access to residents?

Local authorities and housing associations know the importance of providing high-quality facilities and residences on a strict budget. ONS figures show that it’s becoming increasingly rare to own your own home, and many that do buy a place of their own are doing so later in life.

Access to the internet is a right, not a privilege

Access to a stable, high-speed, internet connection is now regarded as an essential utility, rather than a luxury – one that people in social housing need access to. The Government’s “Digital Inclusion” initiative seeks to open up access to further education, allow more job-hunting and networking via social media and allow people to access training to advance their skills and career prospects.

This is essential for everyone, regardless of their housing status, and it’s an important factor for social housing landlords to get right.

A service that matches the flexibility of renting

Social housing tenancies can range from 12 to 36 months or even longer in some cases. But some can be significantly shorter, so residents are often reluctant to take out a lengthy broadband contract no matter how much they need access to the Internet. While many landlords leave internet provision up to individual residents, a managed or Pay-As-You-Go solution is a more attractive option, especially in cases where shorter tenancies are common. This allows tenants to avoid 12-month minimum contracts, but still gives them access to online government services, job sites and other essential services.

The landlord could provide a robust wireless connection, with good coverage in all required areas. Tenants would have access to reliable, high-speed internet in their homes and in any common areas in and around their residence.

Using the same infrastructure, landlords could also provide a free WiFi network to guests and staff, which allows mobile working across numerous sites.

When a tenancy ends, and the resident leaves, they don’t need to worry about cancelling their services as they are billed through their landlord.

Providing a service

Whether or not a tenant rents privately, or through a social scheme, it’s important to remember that landlords are providing a service to a customer. If the WiFi service provided is robust, high-speed and managed well, if there are no issues with billing or problems with blocking legal sites, it should present an attractive option for residents.

Landlords can also use the connection to run estates and buildings more efficiently. Using connected devices, the landlord can have more control over heating and power. It could also use the devices for site security and maintenance (controlling sprinkler systems, CCTV and operating security doors, for example). These systems could potentially save more money over time, which can be invested back into the properties.

Social housing landlords are not only providing a much-needed service, they’re often tasked with providing the stable foundation on which families, students and the elderly can build their lives.

A robust and high-speed internet connection is a basic expectation these days, and landlords need to consider what their role is in providing this utility. Many of their residents will be able to arrange and can afford their own broadband contract, but many won’t. Rather than leaving these people behind, social housing landlords need to offer a flexible and affordable service that enables everyone of their residents to get online.

The importance of digital inclusion in care homes for the elderly

It can be hard of for the elderly living in care home communities to adapt. It’s common for people to feel like they’re losing their independence when they go into care. The daily routines of their lives are often replaced, and they find themselves surrounded by new faces just when they need the support and care of friends and family the most.

We now view internet connectivity is a utility and a basic right, one that older people – particularly those in residential care – need to have access to. Access to a fast and reliable internet connection enables the most socially isolated of us to keep our relationships strong. It lets us watch what we like, when we like and allows us to follow our hobbies and interests wherever we are.

Connectivity in care homes for the elderly

The Office for National Statistics reported that, as of 2016, more than 74% of people aged 65 to 74 were internet users, while almost 39% of those aged over 75 regularly used the internet. However, when examining internet use in care homes, Age UK found that 60% of the UK’s 397,000 elderly care home residents had never used the internet. It also reported that a mere 2,835 of the almost 18,000 care homes in England had internet access – which is obviously a huge barrier to improving that figure.

Many people in the 65-74 age range will have worked with computers, or been around their children who grew up with computers as part of their daily work and leisure activities. Many elderly people living outside of care homes have access to friends, family and other resources through the internet. Care home residents deserve the same level of access.

Explaining the benefits of the internet

Some people just may not want to learn how to use a computer, or go online. They may hear the scare stories, or could have decided that they’re ‘too old’ to learn something like that. But digital inclusion is important for a number of reasons.

Keeping lines of communication open

The world is changing. The way younger generations communicate has moved on. While some in the elder generation grew up writing letters, most of their grandchildren only put pen to paper under parental duress to write thank you cards. They prefer digital communications.

While many advocates of letter writing bemoan this, they’re ignoring (or just don’t know about) the benefits of video calls where you can both see and speak to your friend or family member, no matter where they are in the world.

Maintaining independence

With digital inclusion, no longer does a resident need to give a shopping list to a member of staff or a family member, now they can do their shopping online, choosing the brands they like and making the substitutions they want. If they can’t get to the theatre or the ballet any more, they can now watch performances online.

They can do what they want, when they want – rather than depending on a set schedule of entertainment provided by someone else.

It’s about choice

In another study, Age UK found that most elderly people who did not use the internet said that it was because they just weren’t interested in doing so. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given the option, or that they ‘just need to be convinced’. Independence is about making your own choices, and not having them restricted by ridged structures, or those in authority who think they know what’s best for you.

Care home management

It is not just the residents that benefit, but the care homes themselves. Staff need to be able to compare notes and they need to be able to inform family members on how their relative is. Delays can occur if a member of staff is unable to access these files due to internet connectivity issues, which is why care homes need robust and secure connections.

WiFi can also deliver operational efficiencies, and in some case cost savings. Through the use of IoT, heating and lighting systems can be automated and prescriptions automatically ordered from doctors when a resident is running low on their medication. For more active residents, the home can share news about activities that are taking place and requests can be dealt with quicker.

 

There are limited barriers to installing and running a WiFi solution in care homes. It’s no different to putting it into a school or a hotel where there are a lot of residents. As we can see from the ONS figures, demand is there, and while not all residents will take up the offer, those that do will benefit greatly from the social contact, entertainment and avenues of independence that digital communication provides.

Wifinity partners with Bramble Hub to become supplier on G-Cloud 8

Wifinity is pleased to announce that in partnership with Bramble Hub, we have been selected to offer our services on the new G-Cloud 8 catalogue, enabling our public sector customers to have access to superfast, robust WiFi connections no matter where they are, including in the UK’s most remote and hard-to-reach locations.

G-Cloud 8 is the latest version of the UK Government’s Digital Marketplace, designed to streamline the procurement process for UK public sector companies. The G-Cloud 7 framework is a pre-approved list of suppliers that allows public sector organisations to find, compare and source cloud based services online. There are now over 2,500 suppliers with total sales of £1.2bn through the Digital Marketplace since its launch in 2012.

Aubone Tennant, Joint CEO, Wifinity said: “We have been working with the public sector, and particularly the Armed Forces, since we founded Wifinity in 2007. Working with Bramble Hub through this programme means that more government agencies and departments will be able to take advantage of our WiFi connections. We specialise in providing connections to remote or hard to reach locations, such as Fort George in the Highlands and Cawdor Barrracks in Pembrokeshire, that may not be well served by other providers.”

Roland Cunningham, Bramble Hub’s Partner Director said: “Bramble Hub was created to enable high quality SME suppliers to offer their services to government and the wider public sector. Wifinity supply exactly the kind of high quality, specialist solutions that UK Government needs, to enable it to take advantage of modern digital technologies and lower costs.”

 

About Bramble Hub

Bramble Hub is a specialist in helping ICT companies secure public sector contracts through UK Government frameworks. We do this by connecting the best ICT companies with public sector organisations and vice versa, which means we are able to deliver more agile, flexible and cost effective solutions to the UK government. We have a large network of SMEs and niche specialists to meet all ICT requirements.

Could WiFi help in reforming prisons?

The Government’s push for reforming the prison service is built around the need to improve rehabilitation rates. The shake up of the prison service was also at the heart of new laws laid out in the latest Queen’s speech.

Supporting someone to follow a lawful path in life goes beyond a philosophical debate. Prisoners need practical support and actions if they are to succeed. If we look at other countries, especially in Scandinavia, where the premise of the prison system is to rehabilitate as opposed to purely punish a lot can be learnt.

In a recent speech on the issue of technology in jails, Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons said: “I can think of few jobs nowadays that do not require at least a basic level of IT skills. In importance it’s just a short way between basic literacy and numeracy.

“It is not just a matter of education and training. How do you apply for a job without web access? Look for and apply for accommodation? Manage your money? Make travel arrangements?”

Norway has one of the lowest reoffending rates at only 20%. There are a lot of factors contributing to this and one of them is the access, tightly controlled of course, that prisoners have to the internet.

As Norwegian prison governor Arne Wilson, who is also a clinical psychologist, explained to The Guardian:

“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.”

There are understandable concerns about allowing prisoners to have internet access. Some prisoners currently use mobile phones to illicitly get online, and there will always be some individuals that must be kept away from the internet at all costs. But for most, allowing access to the internet can help them with their job search, provide them access to educational resources, allow them to keep in contact with their friends and family, and prevent isolating them on the fringes of society.

Robust controls and filtering are now available to prevent access to inappropriate sites.

Learning from the Armed Forces and corporate environments

One only needs to look at other sectors that require tight security and strict controls to see the potential for deploying WiFi in UK prisons.

Take the armed services as an example. Barracks and training facilities are often in remote locations with little access to the outside world, personnel have very strict timetables to follow but WiFi is viewed as a welfare issue so the armed forces can stay in touch with family and friends. Resettlement after leaving the forces can also be a challenge, meaning that access to information on finding housing, jobs and educational tools is essential.

Armed Forces sites place great demands on a network. Whether it is a soldier wanting to watch a film on Netflix in the evening (using PAYG internet), a cadet accessing the course materials they need to study, or an officer communicating with colleagues, a network can be secured and different priorities given to meet all these needs.

In the corporate world, some companies even block access on their networks to certain websites and social networks, least it harm productivity levels.

If the armed forces and the corporate world can make WiFi work for them, so can the prison service. Prisons need to establish a secure WiFi connection, one that not only tightly controls what can be accessed but also monitors what is being looked at. Yes, it needs to have strong access control, but by blocking all prisoners from what’s now seen as one of the most basic necessities, the prison service is helping to further isolate and alienate their charges.

Is it an either or: 5G or wireless?

Much has been said about 5Gs ability to provide an equivalent service to Wi-Fi, but is this really going to be the case?

The £70m dedicated 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey is heralding 5G as the future of wireless, and expects it to be up and running by 2020. Meanwhile, part of the reason the European Commission blocked the merger of O2 and Three was that it felt its network sharing agreements would hamper 5G’s roll-out in Britain. It looks like a lot of expectation is being placed on 5G’s shoulders. What is more likely is that as 5G becomes a reality, amenity Wi-Fi will also continue to advance, making both networks valuable to mobile users , both from an availability perspective, and from a cost one.

A good example of the scale of the challenge is the £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project that was meant to bring cellular coverage to remote, underserved, locations. It’s no secret that it is difficult to get coverage into these areas. There were meant to be 600 new masts to address ‘not-spots’ but in the two years since the project started there have only been 16 erected.

In February, Ed Vaizy admitted the project was a failure.

“We had not anticipated just how difficult some of the planning issues are, particularly when we were dragging four operators with us, metaphorically kicking and screaming. Although we were paying for the mast, we were asking them to meet the operating costs going forward, which includes the land rental as well as the transmission costs for what is, by definition, an uneconomic area,” said Vaizey.

Even now there are many areas of the country, and even some parts of London, that aren’t able to access the 4G network, so we need to be realistic in what is and isn’t possible with 5G. This means continued investment in wireless networks, connected up to the fibre backbone and continued pressure on the government and suppliers to build networks in hard to reach areas. Even with 5G just around the corner this shouldn’t be forgotten.

There are several 5G trials starting to take place, Ericsson and TeliaSonera are working together, as are Verizon and Samsung. However,it is expected that wide scale deployments of 5G will not take place before 2020 and even then will be limited to high density and urban areas only.

In reality, the newest 802.11ac WiFi standard, delivering 1.3 Gb/s throughput, is likely to remain the technology of choice for public WiFi in remote or rural locations or where cost-conscious users want an uncapped data limit.

Both industries are needed to spur each other on and to ensure that those that want to be connected to the Internet, can be, no matter where they are.

Holiday parks to make a smart choice

Holiday Parks know that, in order to survive, they need to be able to offer wireless connectivity to guests. Whether it is so a parent can keep up with work emails on a long weekend away, or so kids can be entertained on a rainy day, providing internet to guests is the only option these days.

But what else can a WiFi connection deliver?

There has been a lot of talk about smart cities but can a holiday park also be ‘smart’? With a stable and robust internet connection there is no reason why not. The possibilities available with smart technology and the Internet of Things are endless.

Park owners are already exploring smart meters to monitor energy and allow them to maintain complete control of their energy supplies direct from their computers. Imagine taking this a step further. Whether it is enabling smart queuing, smart irrigation or an app for maintenance requests, the holiday park can make significant savings while also providing a better service to guests.

Smart metering also means that owners of vans will be charged for their exact energy usage and not estimates. Lights could be automatically switched off when guests leave their caravan and the door is locked from the outside saving on energy costs. An app on a guest’s phone could even do the locking/unlocking for them.

In addition, many parks offer different options for guests from breakfast only to half-board. All of which inevitably end in a queue while waiting to be signed in by a staff member when entering the dining room. Could a smart band be the answer? It is given to a guest on arrival with all the information about their stay preloaded. With it they simply need to walk into the dining room for the park to know who has taken up the meals included in a package, and any not included can be automatically added to the final bill.

Smart bands could also help parents keep an eye on children. They would be able to monitor where their children are in the park via their mobiles, or be preloaded with a monetary allowance. That way, teenagers old enough not to be supervised all the time can use them to pay for facilities and entertainment without parents worrying about endless bills at the end of the stay (or being constantly asked for change).

It isn’t just about tracking spending. Connected devices also give holiday parks the information they need to ensure they are able to offer the best possible facilities to guests. By understanding what facilities are used and when, whether it is the games room, mini ten pin bowling or soft play, they can ensure staff are available where and when needed, and that unused facilities can be replaced.

Vending machines can even monitor their own stock levels. When a product is getting low, a message can be sent to a staff member to refill it, or if stock is low across the park an order can be raised directly with the supplier. This results in customers receiving a smoother service – in the form of well-stocked machines and staff who are able to spend time helping out elsewhere.

The possibilities are endless, but only with a stable, robust and scalable wireless internet connection. The Internet of Things needs to be embraced, but first networks have to be deployed that can match the demand it will bring otherwise introducing smart technology may cause more frustration than relaxation for guests of holiday parks.

Wifinity shortlisted for Best Consumer Customer Service at the ISPAs

The finalists for the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) Awards were recently announced and we are pleased to say that Wifinity has ben shortlisted in the Best Consumer Customer Service category.

The ISPA Awards is now in its 18th year and are independently judged by a panel of industry experts with technical testing carried out by Thinkbroadband, ensuring that only the top performing providers are shortlisted.

The winners will be announced on Thursday 7th July 2016 at The Brewery in the City of London.

Wifinity was shortlisted after providing information on:

  • Speed of answering customer queries
  • Contract options
  • Handling of complaints
  • Speed of dispute resolution
  • Safety and security features and accessibility
  • How our customer service differs from that of competitors
  • Innovation in billing and customer contact
  • Examples of ‘going the extra mile’

Wifinity’s customer service is tailored to its customers needs: remote location availability, unlimited downloads, no quibble cancellation, technically trained services team and 24/7 phone, email and live chat options.

If you want to know more about the ISPAs, or to see a full list of the finalists, visit http://www.ispa.org.uk/ispa-awards/.

 

 

Why Ofcom’s BT ruling is bad for internet users

There’s been a lot of talk in the press recently about openreach and BT, about issues of ownership of infrastructure and how that affects the roll out of high-speed broadband. But what does it all mean, and how are internet users, and those still waiting to be connected, being short-changed?

Openreach and BT

Openreach is a subsidiary of BT. While BT is an internet and telecoms provider, Openreach is the owner of the pipes and telephone lines that are used to carry phone and internet services in the UK.

Other internet service providers use the copper phone and cable lines to service their customers, but the lines are old, and have been outpaced by more modern forms of internet delivery – such as fibre, and wireless internet.

In 2015, MPs started calling for Openreach to be sold off, as people complained of delays in BT connecting their businesses and residences up to high-speed broadband.

Ofcom’s report

On 25th February 2016, telecoms regulator Ofcom, released its report on the future of BT’s Openreach programme. Many had hoped that Ofcom would demand that BT separate its internet arm away from the rest of the company, instead Ofcom ruled that BT could continue operating as is, it just has to allow other ISPs to use its cable network without delays.

Ofcom has said that Openreach must open up its network of telegraph poles and underground

ducts to allow others to build their own, advanced fibre networks, connected directly to homes

and offices. It also said that Openreach needs to take independent decisions on where to roll out broadband, how much money to spend on improving service quality and new high-speed broadband technology. Essentially it is meant to treat all ISPs the same, including BT.

BT appears to have welcomed this result, saying that rivals were free to make more use of its network, as long as they were: “genuinely keen to invest very large sums as we have done.”

The real question remains, can Openreach put the future of broadband in Britain first when it answers to BT and its shareholders?

What does this mean for ISPs and their customers?

Slower response time to faults

The fact is, the Government has a target to reach and it keeps having to move the goal posts. The roll-out of high-speed broadband has been fraught with delays, due in no small part to the problems cause by Openreach and its monopoly over the telecoms infrastructure in the UK.

In February this year, one router broke down, resulting in hundreds of thousands of internet users (both homes and businesses) losing access to the internet. The problem was experienced across the country – in London, Sheffield, Birmingham and Glasgow. What’s more, BT didn’t repair the fault until 7pm that day – four and a half hours after the failure, leaving homes and businesses offline for half of the working day.

No service

 There are areas of the country that are deemed too remote to make building infrastructure feasible. These hard to reach, remote areas are the kind of communities that we serve at Wifinity. What’s clear to us is that BT will continue to invest in redundant technology like copper lines. It will continue to focus on the areas where it can make the most profit, and it won’t go out of its way to make it easier for other ISPs to service these remote areas and the homes that desperately want connectivity.

If the Openreach monopoly is not addressed, many areas in the UK will continue to suffer from the issues that a lack of internet connectivity causes.