Ely Free WiFi: Reaching new heights to provide connectivity to Ely

Ely Free WiFi: Reaching new heights to provide connectivity to Ely

Ely Free WiFi was a project that we started in April 2018 to deliver digital connectivity across Ely in time for the Christmas lights switch on in November. Owing to the limitations of mobile signals in the area due to the majestic presence of Ely Cathedral (something 12th Century planners failed to consider when it was built!) an outdoor wifi solution was required – for the public, and to enable market traders to use e-commerce solutions.

Julia Davis and Lisa Quin from Ely Markets with Martin Smith from East Cambs District Council

“Ely Free Wifi is a collaborative project that has drawn together the needs of the public, shoppers, market traders and tourists visiting the city. We are proud to have delivered a digital solution within tight timescales, which introduces very important infrastructure that is essential to the local economy. As the project develops next year we’ll be exploring options to increase coverage of Ely Free Wifi beyond the city and into a wider East Cambridgeshire connectivity programme.”   

Martin Smith, Economic Development Manager at East Cambs District Council

In collaboration with Ely City Council, Visit Ely, Ely Markets, Connecting Cambridgeshire and Ely Cathedral, we conducted a feasibility exercise to determine the needs of shoppers, tourists and market traders.   What exactly was required? Where should wifi be implemented around Ely? Why was it required? Who would use it? When could we deliver connectivity by? How would it be implemented to provide a strong, reliable signal for users?

Tracey Harding from Visit Ely outside Ely’s Tourist Information Centre

“Visit Ely is delighted to be consulted on this important project and work alongside East Cambs District Council to provide free wi-fi coverage to the city centre areas.  This is great news for visitors who can easily access online content such as hotel availability and restaurant locations on the go. They can share their experiences on social media; all of which makes Ely a more attractive place to visit.  This new infrastructure investment is just the first stage towards making Ely a smarter digitally connected city, whilst protecting users’ privacy by not collecting personal data. We are pleased to have helped deliver this speedy online connection so that visitors can fully experience and enjoy our historic city!”   

Tracey Harding, Tourism, Town Centres and Events Manager for Visit Ely

We looked at several technology options and decided that local specialists, Air Broadband, have the expertise to deliver a cost effective and comprehensive mesh network solution to Ely’s wifi requirements utilising their tried and tested network infrastructure.  Air Broadband’s solution also includes an easy to use connection to access to internet.

Following consultations, detailed planning to deliver optimum service for the public and traders was completed to map out the phases of the project, with the first stage of connectivity to include Market Square, High Street, Market Street, Forehill and around the Cathedral as a priority.   

Andrew Glover from Air Broadband installing equipment in Ely Cathedral

Ely Free Wifi uses base stations carefully hidden within Ely Cathedral’s West Tower as a vantage point to broadcast out across the Fens, providing an uninterrupted view of Ely’s main shopping and tourist areas.

We accompanied Air Broadband on a climb up the West Tower (288 steps!) as they installed the wifi equipment across Ely, linking these in turn to the superfast fibre optic connection at Ely Cathedral. After a climb into the belfry sits a small comms room, hidden from public view, installed many years ago by BT for their mobile service in the 1990’s. This comms room is now used to house servers for the fibre optic network into and around the Cathedral.  (Here’s a fact, the cabling from the rooftop aerials were originally installed by abseiling telecoms engineers and the servers, cabinets and server room construction materials where taken up to the belfry by means of a rope and trapdoor hidden in Jesus’ right foot!)

A soft launch of the installed wifi equipment around the market place in early November ensured the market traders could trial the new wireless network and we gathered their feedback on the service and what this would mean for their business.

Ely Free Wifi is now live. Simply find “Ely-Free-Wifi” on the list of available networks on your device and click “Connect” to get online. Ely Traders have a separate, password protected, network of their own.

System being trialled at the Christmas lights switch on event

Press release from Enterprise East Cambs

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