The Greater London Authority (GLA) will set up a troubleshooting Not-Spot Team to track down and tackle areas of poor mobile and broadband service around the capital, as part of a set of digital connectivity measures announced by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
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Businesses and residents in many parts of the capital – including areas such as the City of London, Rotherhithe and Westminster – still struggle to receive fit-for-purpose broadband services, in spite of London’s status as one of the world’s leading centres for tech and digital development.
The measures partly deliver on a manifesto commitment made prior to the 2015 election that saw Khan defeat Zac Goldsmith. Khan’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, had met with little success in tackling London’s connectivity problems during his eight-year incumbency.
The Not-Spot Team will travel to London’s most poorly served areas and work extensively with local authorities and communications services providers (CSPs) to address the problem.
In support of this, a City Hall summit – the Digital Connectivity Funding Forum – will bring London’s 32 boroughs together to support them in applying for money from the government’s £400m Digital Infrastructure Fund, to coordinate the work of the Not-Spot Team, and to share ideas and best practice on connectivity.
“London is now a leading global tech hub, with thriving startups alongside major companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google,” said Khan.
“But our digital connectivity needs to be improved – internet connectivity is now a key public utility, and it is no surprise that some businesses see poor connectivity as a barrier to growth. If we are to remain competitive in the global economy, we need to ensure every Londoner is able to access a fast and reliable digital connection.
“That means working to boost connectivity across London – tackling not-spots, delivering connectivity in the London Underground and working with local authorities to provide digital infrastructure fitting of a global tech hub,” he added.
The mayor said Transport for London (TfL) would shortly be issuing a formal notice seeking industry feedback on how it can use its underground and street-level assets to support deployment of connectivity services, both fixed and mobile – similar to how Openreach offers duct and pole access.
“We should be making the most of existing infrastructure, including the London Underground network, to boost speeds and deliver coverage to areas that have been left behind. But we also need London’s planners to get behind this work, otherwise our digital ambitions risk being strangled by red tape,” said London First infrastructure director David Leam
Meanwhile, work is to continue on outfitting the tube network with 4G mobile connectivity. As previously reported, TfL has already constructed a small pilot network on the Waterloo and City Line, ostensibly to test the feasibility of building a subterranean version of the Emergency Services Network (ESN), although TfL has said it would ideally like to have public access as well.
The biggest problem with bringing mobile coverage to the Tube hinges on the cramped conditions in the tunnels, with deep-cut lines such as the Central or Northern lines barely having room for trains, let alone mobile repeaters.
However, the new Elizabeth Line (Crossrail), which will open to passengers in central London by Christmas 2018, will be fully connected to 4G services.