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How can London compete?

9 · OCT ·2015

Back in February 2015 the House of Lords committee on digital skills reported that London had one of the lowest average internet connectivity speeds in Europe; having fallen behind cities like Bucharest and Reykjavik. The chair, Baroness Morgan, said: “It's unacceptable that some urban areas still experience 'not-spots', particularly where the lack of internet directly affects the UK’s ability to compete." In the same month, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport reported that London had the worst broadband speeds in Britain, with the City of London and Westminster constituency fairing the worst with only 31 per cent of premises being able to access connections speeds over 24mbps (other under-serviced constituencies are Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Bethnal Green and Bow, Poplar and Limehouse and Westminster North.) Although the government has invested £1.7bn in broadband infrastructure, it cannot invest in these key areas due to competition regulations. Theoretically, these urban areas should be well-covered by ISPs, but the comparably low density of residential housing in Inner London has proved to be less attractive to ISPs, which, until recently, have been choosing to invest elsewhere. Unfortunately, this leaves the residents and businesses in these underserviced urban areas with no real solution.

Demand

In May, London business leaders backed Westminster council’s campaign to improve high-speed broadband in central London, calling on BT to invest in a quicker roll-out of Openreach. BT said it would be willing to consider it if the council could prove there was sufficient demand for the expedited roll-out.

Businesses recognise the need for high-speed broadband, and that it has become as necessary as the provision of basic utilities to the smooth running of a business. Brian Bickell, CEO of real estate business, Shaftesbury, said: “We don’t have enough capacity and creative businesses which are shifting huge amounts of data around really need it.” Residential areas in London are also suffering through the lack of investment in infrastructure. Take the Royal Arsenal Riverside development in Woolwich. It was built with non-fibre broadband connections. At first, residents had no problems, but as more people moved in, internet speeds ground to a halt. People are no longer having a quick browse on the internet; they’re watching Netflix, streaming live events and having Skype calls with people on the other side of the world. The internet, and the way people use it has changed significantly over the four years that the development has been occupied. It wasn’t built with a future-ready connection, and residents have not been told when they can expect one. The increasing virtual working trend means that residential broadband is no longer just used for watching House of Cards but is needed for business purposes as well – while the area may be classed as residential, the internet connection will probably be used for business purposes.

Need

Super-fast broadband isn’t a luxury, it’s becoming a necessity; especially for a city such as London, which needs to remain competitive with other capitals around the world.

As of May 2015, Wembley Park (in Northwest London) had the highest residential broadband speeds in the UK, with almost 500 homes connected to 1GB broadband. But this doesn’t just impact domestic internet users. Local businesses reap the benefits of the boost in broadband speeds. Ben Fillmore, MD of E-House, said: “Here we can have a 100mb dedicated line, with the same upload and download speed, it’s enabled us to change our IT infrastructure to maximise new technology.” The investment has allowed Wembley Arena to live-stream events over its two 10GB connections, and utilise a fibre optic ring, which provides the whole arena with high-speed connections, helping events like the X-Factor finals run smoothly. While ISPs such as Virgin Media are looking to invest more in high-speed broadband for London, it’s vital that these issues are addressed sooner rather than later, allowing London to maintain its competitive edge. It is also crucial that when laying new network we think about our needs in five years time, not what we need now as by the time it is in place it will already be out of date. And not just for London. If our capital isn’t at the forefront, how can the rest of Britain expect to compete. If the money that the government is investing in HS2 was used to upgrade broadband infrastructure there would be no need for a high-speed rail link. Business would be able to connect anywhere and allow their people to work from where they want to.
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Posted by Sanita Karra