Archive for July, 2017

Trades Hall

Trades Hall, seen from near the corner of Vivian St and Taranaki St.

This is Trades Hall, in Vivian St, symbolic home of the union movement in Wellington since the 1920s. On 27 March, 1984, during the final months of the Muldoon Government, caretaker Ernie Abbot went to move a suitcase that had been carelessly left in the entrance into an office for safe keeping. The ensuing blast blew debris, including Abbot’s dog, Patches out into the street, and killed Abbot instantly. The case remains unsolved today.

But this isn’t about an act of presumed political violence in the ’80s.

In 1996, a fledgling web development company, associated with the union movement (complete with posters of Marx & Lenin on the office walls) needed better Internet access than their dial-up could provide. yet within their meagre budget. And at NetLink, we had just built a wireless service.

We didn’t call it “wifi” then, and the Proxim gear we were using was expensive, and ran at about half a megabit or so, much less than the 802.11 standards that came out over the nest few years. 2.4 GHz wasn’t as crowded as it is now. With a clear line of sight and outdoor, directional antennas, we’d had it providing access at well over a kilometre, and the Cotton Building at Victoria University has a fantastic view over the entire CBD from its high Kelburn campus.

Coverage map

Original NetLink coverage map, circa 1997

From the roof of Trades Hall, we couldn’t see the Cotton Building antennas. The building is three stories high – generous, 1920s stories, admittedly, but an adjacent building was twice the height. The rear corner of the building could see past that, though, but blocking that view was the Marion St complex, retail, plus three levels of car parking and another three levels of apartments. It looked hopeless.

But I figured it was just a question of how tall the pole needed to be, and I suspected that it wouldn’t be unreasonable. By walking down the street a bit, we could get a line of sight to the Cotton Building, over the Marion St apartments, and, crucially, over the corner of Trades Hall.  We estimated that a pole of about five metres or so would intercept that line.

NetLink’s wireless service, and indeed NetLink itself (bought out by Telstra in 1999) are long gone. But that pole is still there, with its “patch” antenna still attached. You can see it on the far right of the photo above, and magnified below.

5m pole on corner of Trades Hall

Reaching for the sky