First published Tuesday 20th July 2010 12:17pm
Last updated Tuesday 20th July 2010 12:17pm

Now that everyone is back again for B semester, we'd like to start a series of posts that introduce you to how things work behind the scenes at Lightwire.

In this first post, we'd like to introduce you to the history of Lightwire and where we came from. We hope to write a number of posts over the next few weeks which we hope will address a number of the common questions raised in the 2010 Lightwire Survey. Some posts (like this one) will be generally informative, others will be a bit more technical.

Lightwire's History

Way back in 2001, the WAND Network Research Group in the Computer Science department right here at the University of Waikato started the CRCnet project. CRCnet was a project to connect remote and rural communities around New Zealand to the Internet using then-new wireless technologies. Over the following years, CRCnet grew to cover a large portion of the central North Island, connecting some of the most remote schools and communities to the Internet from which they were previously completely cut off.

In 2006, Rural Link Limited was founded as a joint venture between the University and Rezare Systems to commercialise the research work done in the CRCnet project. The CRCnet project members who were employed by the Computer Science department started to split their time between the University and Rural Link, which based itself at the Waikato Innovation Park, just down the road from the University. CRCnet continues to provide rural wireless broadband service today under the no8wireless brand.

Most of the Rural Link staff were either University teaching and research staff or students. As we grew CRCnet and started to look for other opportunities, we realised that what was really lacking at the University was a cheap, easy and accessible way for students to get on the Internet.

Prior to Lightwire, there was no Internet access in many of the Halls of Residence. If a halls user wanted to use the Internet, they needed to either go to a common room with a shared computer or to a University lab. Internet access on campus required the use of the Waikato Proxy, which charged students via UniCash and only allowed Web access, so other applications such as voice chat, games, etc, weren't supported.

And so, the idea of Lightwire was born. Our vision is to provide affordable Internet access wherever you need it. We've come a long way since Lightwire was launched in 2008, but there's still plenty of scope for improvement. Lightwire started in 2008 as a subscription service in the Halls only, with users paying per month for access. We moved to a casual pre-paid top-up system in 2009, which made managing your Internet spending much easier and we also made Lightwire available across campus. In 2010, we introduced an even better pricing system where your credit doesn't expire, and we expanded Lightwire's reach even further throughout the Hamilton CBD.

Before Lightwire, casual wireless access could cost hundreds of dollars per gigabyte (seriously). Now, you can get a gigabyte of data for about ten bucks (even cheaper if you top-up more), and you can use it in the Halls, around campus, and now even when you're out and about in town.

Lightwire is still staffed by the same people who started it - a small group of students and ex University staff who recognised the demand for affordable Internet access wherever you are. As previous students, we know what it's like, so we've designed Lightwire to be as useful as possible without costing the earth or requiring contracts.

In an upcoming post we'll talk in more detail about how the physical network works and how we provide Internet access to you over it. Also we'll discuss how we hope to work with the University to improve the physical network to make sure we can deliver a great experience to all our users. We'll also try to answer some of the common questions that came up in the 2010 Lightwire Survey.

Feel free to join us on Facebook and ask questions or start a discussion.

Thanks for reading,

The Lightwire Team.