Broadband service backed by Eaton

Power management company Eaton has been chosen to provide Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) that form a key part of the infrastructure of the ingenious and innovative WiSpire project. This is bringing affordable high-speed broadband services to the whole county of Norwich, including not only the main population centres, but also the county's many small and isolated communities.

WiSpire is a joint venture between two organisations that might, at first sight, appear to be unlikely partners: FreeClix, a leading ISP, telecom and IT integrator based in Norwich, and the Church of England Diocese of Norwich, which serves and supports churches, schools and communities throughout Norfolk. Both organisations, however, have a strong interest in securing the future of communities in Norfolk and both have assets that are essential for the success of the WiSpire project.

In the case of FreeClix, the essential assets it brings to the project are wide experience and expertise in implementing broadband delivery services and in operating the associated infrastructure, while the crucial asset contributed by the Diocese of Norwich is access to its churches!

WiSpire makes high-speed broadband services available in areas where fibre-optic connections are neither installed nor planned for the near future by using wireless connections to deliver the services. Strategically located transmitter sites in each of the communities served by WiSpire communicate with each other to create a high-capacity broadband network. The sites then transmit signals to homes, businesses and schools in their vicinity, via a small receiver that each subscriber to the service has at the top of their property.

The success of WiSpire depends on finding a suitable elevated location for the transmitters, and the ingenious solution adopted by FreeClix and the Diocese of Norwich is to put them in parish churches throughout the county.

This approach has several benefits: almost every community, no matter how small, has a parish church and it's often on high ground close to the centre of the community; the churches almost invariably have high towers or spires that provide excellent locations for the WiSpire aerials; and secure space can readily be found in most churches to accommodate the transmitters and associated equipment.

Many of the churches in Norfolk do, however, have a problem – poor quality mains supplies. Often at the end of rural supply networks, they suffer from voltage reductions (brownouts) at times when the demand for electricity is particularly high, and they also suffer from relatively frequent power interruptions, typically lasting from a few minutes to an hour or so.

"Because of these power quality problems, it was clear from the earliest stages of the WiSpire project that we would need to equip each transmitter site with a UPS so that we could guarantee the highest possible level of availability for our broadband service," said Peter Freeman, who is director of both FreeClix and WiSpire. "And, after careful consideration, we decided that UPSs from the Eaton Ellipse range would, in most cases, ideally meet our needs."

FreeClix chose the Eaton Ellipse UPSs because of their compact construction – the largest units in the range, rated at 1,600 VA, measure just 272 x 82 x 390 mm, because of their excellent record for reliability, and because they are very competitively priced. In addition, the FreeClix had excellent experiences of working with Eaton and using its UPS products in other applications.

The Eaton Ellipse units chosen for the WiSpire transmitter sites support both the transmitter system and the associated equipment. They are sized to provide around two hours of runtime in the event of a complete mains failure, and FreeClix has configured them, in conjunction with other devices, so that they can be remotely powered off and on, making it possible to reboot the transmitter and ancillaries without the need for a site visit.

An important benefit of the Ellipse UPSs in this application is that they incorporate Automatic Voltage Regulation (AVR), which automatically compensates for supply voltage variations over a wide range without using battery power. This means that even if a power cut follows a long period of voltage reduction, the batteries will still be fully charged and capable of delivering the maximum runtime.

As well as supporting the transmitter systems during power cuts and brownouts, the Ellipse UPSs also provide comprehensive protection against spikes and surges on the mains supply. Often caused by nearby lightning strikes, these power quality problems are particularly prevalent in rural areas where local power distribution depends on overhead lines.

In those churches that play a critical role in the WiSpire network, FreeClix has more equipment installed and requires a longer runtime than can be provided by Ellipse UPSs. In these locations, it has installed Eaton 5PX UPSs, which are available with ratings up to 3 kVA. An important additional benefit is that 5PX UPSs can also be used with additional external battery units to extend runtime. FreeClix has used this feature to achieve typical runtimes of around four hours at these critical locations.

In addition to the UPS systems installed at WiSpire churches, FreeClix is also using Eaton UPS equipment at the data centre that forms the hub of the WiSpire service. Here, a Pulsar UPS, which is now superseded, has been in constant use for over five years.

"We've only recently had to replace the batteries in our Pulsar system," said Peter Freeman, "so they had a very long and economical working life. We have the system serviced regularly, as recommended by Eaton, and it has worked faultlessly since the day we installed it – we're very happy with its performance and reliability, which is, of course, one of the reasons we chose Eaton UPSs for the WiSpire churches."

At the time of writing, around 30 churches have operational WiSpire installations, all of which include Eaton UPS products. The WiSpire network is, however, growing rapidly with more sites going live almost every week.

"We've had a lot of very positive reaction to WiSpire," said Peter Freeman, "as it provides up to 8 Mb/s broadband to homes and businesses in many areas where the only alternative is an almost unusably slow service. We've had much praise for both the performance of our service and for its reliability – and the superb reliability we're achieving owes a great deal, of course, to our use of Eaton UPS equipment."

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