North Norfolk rolls out Mesh to get rural broadband

by Guy Kewney | posted on 05 September 2003

Another rural community has discovered the benefits of do-it-yourself broadband, using the LocustWorld Meshbox to distribute the Internet around small villages, starting with Sheringham.

Guy Kewney

The towns of Cromer and Holt will be next, says North Norfolk Broadband, which is charging just a shade below 30 pounds a month for a "single PC only" home service providing 512K bandwidth - both up and down.

It's hard to see how they can possibly prevent users from setting that PC up with something as simple as Internet Connection Sharing or some hardware firewall like Firebrick which will connect a network of computers behind a Network Address Translator - but North Norfolk Broadband is also offering a "three PC network" option for just under 40 pounds a month, with the implication that it will work more reliably during office hours.

The company claims some subscribers who are a long way from an 802.11 WiFi access point. Michael Morter, a vet at Sheringham Veterinary Practice, because he was a good test subject, being on the edge of Sheringham, some 2.1 kms from the nearest access node.

Michael's wireless equipment "is working very well and has proven very stable," says NNB. He said "It was a non-standard installation that required extra cabling to get the antenna into good enough a position to get a strong signal. A few tests with the positioning of the equipment were made and the whole process was concluded quickly, efficiently and professionally.

NNB had to use a slightly longer directional antenna - but both the signal and access speeds have been fast and consistent from the start, says Morter. "The wireless technology employed also means that I don't have to use my phone line to access the internet. This is a considerable benefit as I was finding that lots of people couldn't call me when I was online."

Current coverage is shown on the map below. Plans are in place to expand this.

The Meshbox is a simple low-cost PC with a Flash smartcard as its boot device, and an 802.11b wireless WiFi card, running Linux, and hosting LocustWorld's communications software. Mesh boxes seek each other out in a district, and create a local "neighbourhood network" automatically, reconfiguring the network whenever a new machine starts up, or another one is switched off.

<1/> Current coverage of Sheringham village.

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