Free WiFi: Reaching new heights to provide connectivity across the region
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
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
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.
Continuing the rollout of free wifi, the installation of various access points in Soham village was completed in January 2019 by local Wilburton based company H & P Aerials on behalf of the main contractor, Air Broadband. Following switch on of the signal there were two weeks of monitoring by Air Broadband which was done remotely and looked at any potential issues like coverage or interference.
The system is now live, and available for use by residents and visitors to the town. Users can find Soham Free Wifi on the list of available networks within their mobile device and then click ‘Connect’ to get online.
With an estimated population of over ten thousand people, the free wifi will be an asset to users of local businesses, residents of Soham and visitors to the town. Attendees of outdoor events like the popular Soham Carnival, which has been running since the Queen's Coronation year in 1952 should also benefit from the service.
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