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Ely Cathedral and Soham church soar digital to new heights


Ely Cathedral and Soham church soar digital to new heights

Soon more people will be able to log on to the internet whilst out and about in Ely, thanks to the latest stage of work to extend free Wifi in East Cambridgeshire.

Work started today on hugely extending digital connectivity in both Ely and Soham – in each case, using ecclesiastical landmarks to carry the hardware and push the network out to reach even more traders, public spaces, and homes.

Funded by the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority, this new phase of street works in Ely market square – plus an upgrade of equipment high up on Ely Cathedral roof – will boost speeds and reliability and massively increase coverage, completing by July 2021.

Busy areas with lots of footfall are priorities, and it is expected that by the end of May, three-quarters of the hardware will be installed, quickly followed by testing and final commissioning to get the network operating by summer.

Current coverage is a trial area around Market Square, Market Street, High Street, Fore Hill – but this is now expanding to take in high activity areas like the Station, Back Hill, Broad Street, Riverside, Jubilee Gardens, Waterside, and various other parts of the City Centre.

In November 2020 the Combined Authority, led by Mayor James Palmer, approved the £195,000 capital grant for accelerated digital connectivity in Ely and a further £95,000 for Soham.

Today, Mayor Palmer visited the Air Broadband team at work near the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough HQ in Ely.

James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough:

“Connectivity and coverage are the name of the game and it’s a priority to end notspots, end iffy Wifi, and get the whole of Cambridgeshire linked in with highspeed broadband that works for everyone.”

“A thousand years on, I love the fact that our eleventh century cathedral is still at the hub, helping our 21st century Ely to reinvent itself for the future.

“Ely Free Wifi is a collaborative effort to address the needs of residents, market traders, shoppers, and tourists visiting the city. Covid-19 has shown us all that delivering top-notch click-and-connect digital has become even more important.

“More people now work or do lessons at home, or shop from home, more local businesses have seen the value of operating online. Digital infrastructure is a necessity, as essential to modern life as electricity or drains, and a must for the local economy.

As the project rolls out, Ely Free Wifi will go way beyond the city and merge with the world-class network that CambWifi is evolving into.”

Soham’s brand new station – currently under construction for delivery later this year – will be included in this phase of extension.    Soham church will also be used to carry hardware for the network which is to extend from the High Street out to Clay Street; Fountain Road, Station Road and all the way to the new railway station.

In January, the Combined Authority’s delivery partner East Cambridgeshire District appointed the local firm Air Broadband to extend the Wifi network programmes for both Ely and Soham.  Preliminary work for the comprehensive mesh network started immediately with planning, coverage mapping at street level, and procurement sourcing across the two towns to identify detailed requirements, contractors and equipment.

When the click-and-connect networks are completed, users can transfer from “Ely and Soham Free Wifi”  to “CambWifi”, benefiting from a one-time log in for the wider Cambridgeshire network, including other towns, villages and public buildings and spaces.

Councillor Anna Bailey, Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, said:

“Providing free public Wi-Fi within some of the highest footfall areas in Ely back in 2018, was a fantastic first milestone to open up the possibilities of connectivity for the district.

“With thanks to the Combined Authority, I am pleased to see the city take that vital next step to not only upgrade its current infrastructure, but extend this service and coverage to many more areas within the city and provide a much greater reach.

“From the train station across to the riverside and past Ely Cathedral up to the tourist information centre. This second phase is ambitious and exactly what we need for the area.

“The pandemic has opened up our eyes to the need for digital inclusivity and this is one of the projects which we as a council are backing to act on this.

“I look forward to when the work is completed and when residents can start to benefit from this service.”

The Government has just announced that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will be among the first areas to benefit from Project Gigabit, the government’s new £5 billion scheme to bring the fastest broadband on earth to hard-to-reach areas.

Up to 140,000 homes and businesses in the county will have new gigabit broadband built to them.