In 2007, through a federal initiative and partnership with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Town of Hantsport and a number of neighbouring communities decided to build a fibre optic network to be owned and operated by the communities. The Valley Community Fibre Network (VCFN), which today runs from Dalhousie University in Halifax through to the Nova Scotia Community College in Middleton, a span of 186 km, interconnects all the municipal offices of these communities.
The project's intention was to promote economic and community development. Two immediate applications seemed possible: to enable the remote monitoring of some of the town's public works applications, and to set up a wireless camera security system to monitor an area of town experiencing an increase in crime.
The decision to build the Cisco® Wireless Mesh Networking Solution on the town's new fibre optic backbone to support the camera system also allowed the town to provide free high-speed access for all as a network.
Hantsport, a family-oriented mill town with a population between 1200 and 2000, could utilize the Internet access to boost tourism and encourage the use of outdoor public spaces. But there were security issues to address first. The town wanted to provide access, but had concerns about viruses, malware, spam, and other security issues. It saw a controlled, secure Wi-Fi network, separate from the town's private network, as ideal for new municipal applications and as a way to give back to the community, while at the same time raising the town's profile.
The next questions focused on whose technology to use, says Matt Povah, the town's IT manager, who suggested Cisco equipment right away. "I know from past experience that Cisco is worth the investment. We looked at another vendor, but they didn't have some of the features we needed. MESH is a step up from everything I'd heard about, because not every access point has to be hardwired."
With help from Cisco partners UNIS LUMIN Inc. and Bulletproof Solutions Inc., the network was designed and implemented. Bulletproof also helped plan for future remote monitoring.
Hantsport began a public test of the Wi-Fi network using the Cisco Wireless Mesh Networking Solution and was the first community in Nova Scotia to offer the service. The Wi-Fi network, known as HANTSPORT-MESH, is limited to a set of specific Internet capabilities: web browsing, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) web browsing for online commerce or banking, VPN (virtual private networking for secure business and work-from-home applications), and incoming Post office Protocol (POP) email. The town actually has two wireless networks: the public HANTSPORT-MESH, and a separate one that links back into the town office, offering full capabilities, and is heavily secured and separate from the public network.
Once the first four MESH access points were installed, members of local industry quickly began showing support. Many of them allowed the town to mount equipment on their facilities and provided power. The first access points were installed as a test before completion of the (wired) VCFN. They were an overwhelming success, and the bandwidth was quickly insufficient. Once the wired network came online, the wireless network was quickly reconfigured to provide sufficient bandwidth.
HANTSPORT-MESH has been deployed to about half the town and will be deployed over the next two years to the remainder of the community.
According to Jeff Lawrence, Hantsport's chief administration officer, data from the local Tourist Bureau indicates there has been a discernible increase in tourism since the wireless network has come online. This observation is also supported by comments from individuals, many of whom have long commutes and stop off in the Town of Hantsport, "because they know that along with getting a meal or whatever else, they can check their messages," Lawrence says.
In addition, he adds, numerous families who have relocated to the area have indicated wireless access was a contributing factor in their decision. Other community members have spoken to the mayor and council, thanking them for taking such a positive leadership role.
"There has been absolutely no negative feedback from the community. Everybody with access is extremely pleased with it," says Lawrence. "Community members without access are constantly asking when they'll get it."
Povah has a similar opinion of the solution, adding that having Cisco equipment keeps his mind at ease. "From an IT perspective, I just sleep better at night not worrying about hardware failure," he says. "From the town's perspective we need reliability and we have it consistently with our current equipment."
One of the best indicators of the success is the fact the neighbouring town of Windsor has budgeted for a similar deployment. Windsor is deploying two mesh access points to provide Internet access to some of its downtown area, using a server in Hantsport to help support the initiative.
Early on, the Town of Hantsport focused on what could be done to curb vandalism and other petty crime happening around its recreational centre. It was particularly troublesome, because this area, with a pool, baseball diamonds, basketball court, tennis courts, and a playground, was a place for children and families. In addition, it could not be physically monitored at all times.
A long-term plan is being developed to deploy Cisco Video Surveillance Operation Manager and install up to 10 high-definition (HD) cameras, as well as several other wireless cameras throughout the town.
HD cameras are also planned for all the entry/exit points of the town. Lawrence says this is partly because the Town of Hantsport currently pays the highest cost per capita for police officers in Nova Scotia, even though it has one of the lowest incidences of crime per capita in the province.
"If one police officer is on duty, it's not difficult to identify the officer's location and relay the information to a group of people. We needed a strategy to reduce our policing costs while enhancing our service. Under this new model, the cost of the camera system deployment pays for itself in the first year."
In the short term, Hantsport would like users of the wireless network to hit a landing page every time they connect to the public Wi-Fi network, redirecting them to community information and suggesting places to shop or buy services locally.
A long-term goal is to allow real-time control of water meter devices by town employees. The control would come through a link to the Wi-Fi network for live monitoring of the water system. In the event of a leak or other situation, an operator would immediately receive the necessary data and be able to act. The technology is planned for use with applications at the town's water treatment plant and with sewage-related applications.
The Hantsport fire department is also looking at ways to use the Cisco wireless network. The department is working to deploy applications that will track firefighters and enable better communication. This capability will be particularly helpful for volunteer firefighters, who often do not know who else has responded to an alarm until they arrive at the fire station.
For More Information
For more information about the Town of Hantsport, visit: http://www.hantsportnovascotia.com.
For more information about Cisco wireless solutions, visit: Cisco Mobility
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