If you find yourself strolling around one of the many beautiful cities of Belgium, there’s a good chance our guest today has had something to do with its public Wi-Fi. Meet Tom Pirlet, IT Team Manager at Citymesh and our amazing Extreme Hero!
Let’s start off by giving some spotlight to Citymesh – congratulations are in order!
Thank you! It’s true that a 5G network delivered by Citymesh recently landed the municipality of Aubange, Belgium, a prestigious Giga Region Award 2022, in recognition of its innovative, smart-city initiatives. We are very proud that our work contributes to the Giga Region project, which aims to turn Wallonia into a hyper-connected area.
What made this project particularly unique for the Citymesh team?
One of the reasons why Aubange posed a challenge for connectivity was actually its location. Aubange is located in a rural area that consists of several village centers. It's also a border municipality, situated in the southern tip of Belgium. At the same time, addressing those challenges led to some very rewarding results. The Giga Region project offers the perfect opportunity for public services, schools and (industrial) companies to do research and experiment with the possibilities of 5G. This way they can uncover the incredible potential of this technology.
For Citymesh, innovative use cases are not just a buzzword. One particularly interesting solution is the fully automated Safety Drone system… Could you briefly walk us through the technology behind this impressive solution?
The Safety Drone system provides emergency services with a real-time overview of situations like fires or traffic accidents. It is controlled entirely via a 5G network. The drone is operated with a SBC (single board computer) and its docking station is controlled by a Citymesh Nova Node. We started with an industrial DJI drone, which has a high standard in safety and failsafe features. Every potential error in the system before, during and after a flight has a failsafe linked to it. It's a very robust drone that can fly in light rain and has an IP45 rating. The drone also has a 360° collision avoidance system, which means that the drone can detect obstacles and avoid them. The BVLOS controlling software offers the possibility to implement no-fly zones and/or geocaging. This ensures that a drone cannot fly over an unwanted zone.
Citymesh is involved in some major networking projects spanning across multiple industries and countries. Which projects that you have worked on have been most rewarding in terms of translating into a real-world impact?
One of the projects that I have worked on was the roll-out of Public Wi-Fi networks under the ‘WiFi4EU’ brand. This initiative of the European Commission promotes free Wi-Fi for citizens and visitors in public spaces. This project narrows the digital gap for people with a limited budget and where mobile 4G/5G subscriptions might cost too much. A large number of Belgian cities have been awarded WiFi4EU vouchers and if some city decided to make use of it, there's about 80% chance that the Wi-Fi network was installed by Citymesh. It's nice to see when you're strolling around a city in Europe, and if they have cooperated in the project, you can find the WiFi4EU network and connect to it automatically.
5G plays a pivotal role in the Citymesh business. Since you’re highly knowledgeable in both cellular and Wi-Fi technologies, how do you personally see the relationship between the two moving forward, especially with the advent of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E?
In my opinion, 5G and Wi-Fi 6(E) can definitely coexist and complement each other. They can be used for different use cases and in different environments. Wi-Fi is a great asset indoors, for instance, and is already used in many contexts, including public buildings, factories, warehouses, schools, etc. 5G is an emerging technology which offers reliable connectivity anywhere and anytime, whether people are on the move or not. A combination of Wi-Fi 6(E) and 5G can also be useful for redundancy purposes, for instance in scenarios where Wi-Fi gets congested.
It's nice to see when you're strolling around a city in Europe, and if they have cooperated in the project, you can find the WiFi4EU network and connect to it automatically.
Although Citymesh joined the ranks of Extreme Networks partners relatively recently, the speed at which the company’s engineers, including yourself, have acquired knowledge of Extreme solutions, is simply remarkable! How does the partnership and Extreme’s product portfolio fit in the company’s broader business strategy?
Extreme Networks fits extremely well within Citymesh's business! Both companies are flexible and goal-oriented. By combining Extreme’s straightforward hardware and licenses with Citymesh's vision, we can offer comprehensive solutions to our clients. The engineers, the tech team and the sales team are a well-oiled machine and have all the necessary knowledge. One of Extreme Networks products that plays a very important role in the Citymesh organization is ExtremeCloud IQ, which I use on a regular basis.
As someone skilled both in network engineering and sales, you probably need to see the benefits of technology in the real world first before being convinced it’s right for the customers. From an engineer’s perspective, which Extreme products or solutions do you particularly appreciate?
One of the most important things for engineers is ease of set-up, maintenance and use. The ExtremeCloud IQ platforms is very straightforward and easy to use, while still allowing some very in-depth tweaking thanks to the classification rules. For an IT Engineer, not everything needs to be complicated or hard to set up to be good. However, the switch-support in XIQ is currently not fully developed yet, I can see this integration coming in the next few months/years, allowing even simpler managing without the need of an on-premise management equipment.
Apart from the exceptional technical skills and knowledge, you also have a knack for entrepreneurship. If you ever started a company of your own, what values would it be based upon?
For me, the values would be Integrity, Fairness, Passion, and Quality. I believe in an honest and fair business relationship with customers and suppliers.
We know you like to travel! What’s your favorite place of all the places you’ve visited? And what’s your next dream destination?
Apart from the European mainland, the only "exotic" trip I ever went on was on an express pick-up mission in Hong Kong for Citymesh. However, my favorite place of all the ones I’ve visited is Budapest. The vibe and the setting were just beautiful. On the wishlist are a few more intercontinental destinations such as: Canada (Toronto), Australia, USA (NY, LA, SF, TX, New Orleans).