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Fast and affordable BT Wi-fi service at RAF Brize Norton improves quality of life for thousands of military personnel
For Squadron Leader Rob Fitton it was vitally important that thousands of military personnel arriving and departing day and night from RAF Brize Norton were rested, motivated and ready for whatever came next.
A BT-provided wireless network offering BT Wi-fi services is now helping make this possible. It provides fast, affordable connectivity to every corner of this largest and busiest UK military base. Rob and his colleagues recognise that, whether enjoying face-time with loved ones or letting off steam on video games, anything that helps those servicemen and women unwind is welcome.
Having access to BT Wi-fi across the whole base makes a huge difference to everyone at RAF Brize Norton. Our people like to work hard and play hard, and this gives them many more ways to enjoy the free time they so clearly earn.”
- Rob Fitton, Squadron Leader RAF Brize Norton
RAF Brize Norton is the main UK military air terminal and home to 6,000 uniformed staff, almost 20 per cent of all RAF personnel. It’s also a temporary home around the clock to a tide of people passing through, including some 132,000 servicemen and women on their way to and from active duty in theatres like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falkland Islands.
Internet access is a much-valued comfort for them; a way to tell loved ones they’re nearly home, or simply relieve stress or tedium before a new tour begins. An MOD recommendation for living accommodation at military bases to have internet access saw a wireless service planned in RAF Brize Norton barracks. Says Squadron Leader Rob Fitton: “We quickly expanded our ambitions to include welfare usage for servicemen and women in transit. That meant we’d have to cover all public spaces, including the airport terminal.”
However, providing wireless broadband service in such a secure location has, until recently, proved difficult or prohibitively expensive to deliver. Speed and resilience were key challenges. For example, a wireless network would have to be fast enough to handle thousands of simultaneous users and designed to ensure continuity of service if something failed. It also needed to maintain the highest standards of security.
BT is expert in the unique challenges of working in secure military installations, for example helping the MOD bring wireless internet access to key sites such as HM Naval Base Clyde. At RAF Brize Norton, BT was thus selected to supply Juniper Networks wireless technology. BT appointed Openreach to carry out on-site installation of the wireless network infrastructure that would enable access to BT Wi-fi services.
“This was always going to be a difficult project,’ says Squadron Leader Rob Fitton. “Not only was it a challenge finding the right wireless technology for the job and the right partner to deploy it, but there had to be no undue disruption to the running of the base.”
Phase one saw the installation of a high-density fibre optic core across RAF Brize Norton to deliver uninterrupted 802.11n wireless connectivity for potentially thousands of simultaneous users across a vast area. This is linked to BT Wi-fi as the service provider through a 500Mbps backhaul circuit. Juniper and Openreach, working with BT, undertook a detailed survey of around 50 buildings to optimise the placement of nearly 600 Juniper WLA322 wireless access points (WAPs) connecting to one of three Juniper WLC800 wireless controllers. Feeds are arranged to maximise network resilience and maintain coverage across the base should a controller or an individual access point fail.
Total coverage is assured for the most important and widely-used buildings including the airport terminal, the barracks (housing over 3,500 beds) and the fire station as well as sports clubs, the hotel and the medical centre.
Network security is naturally a key consideration and the Juniper WLC800 wireless controllers and the router terminating the 500Mbps backhaul circuit have built-in firewalls. These provide intrusion protection and web filtering, while read-access only is permitted to wireless controllers and access points. Furthermore, all wireless access points are located indoors to prevent tampering. The wireless infrastructure is also, of course, physically and logically separate from the RAF Brize Norton military and air traffic control systems.
The RAF Brize Norton wireless broadband network enables thousands of servicemen and women to feel instantly connected to their regular lives and pursuits. “Whether sending emails or watching catch-up TV, it provides a welcome glimpse of home to those arriving back from duty as well as those about to leave, probably for months on end,” says Squadron Leader Rob Fitton.
The BT Wi-fi service for RAF Brize Norton comes without download limits or set-up charges and is inclusive with any standard BT Broadband package. It’s also available through mobile operators like Vodafone, O2 or EE where tariffs include free BT Wi-fi minutes. This means anyone can connect, using almost any device, by simply entering their account name and password or by purchasing an inexpensive voucher code, available online and over-the-counter. Once outside the confines of the base, of course, users can also access over 3.5 million BT Wi-fi hotspots across the UK and Ireland.
BT manages the RAF Brize Norton wireless network end-to-end including maintenance and service assurance. That contract will be extended as corporate wireless LAN access comes on stream. Squadron Leader Gareth Taylor says: “The great support we get from BT is critical to how the service is positively perceived by our people.”
To the people already using it, the availability of BT Wi-fi access right across the base is clearly winning hearts and minds. “Whatever we can do to make our servicemen and women feel more comfortable and valued is vitally important to us,” concludes Squadron Leader Gareth Taylor. “Providing fast and affordable BT Wi-fi access has certainly improved quality of life for everyone at RAF Brize Norton. BT has worked hard to make this happen, and we appreciate that effort and expertise.”
- BT One Enterprise wireless network featuring Juniper technology
- BT Wi-fi