Would you describe your business connectivity as a ‘digital desert’?

Businesses in the city of London are often stuck in “digital deserts” or “not-spots”(1)

Broadband and mobile connections are poor in areas such as Rotherhithe in Southwark, Lambeth, Hackney and parts of Westminster and the City of London. In some of these areas, broadband speed is barely above the 10 (Mbit/s) minimum acceptable standard of internet connection specified by Ofcom (2).

That’s why the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced new measures to boost digital connectivity throughout the capital and to tackle areas with poor broadband coverage. His new ‘Not-Spot Team’ will go to London’s most problematic spots and work with local authorities and providers to deliver the right solutions to improve internet connections.

One high-profile not-spot in the country is the London Underground. Sadiq Khan has pledged network-wide 4G mobile coverage in all London Underground stations and tunnels by 2019.

The new Elizabeth Line, running from Reading to Heathrow through central London, will have full 4G services in all tunnels when it opens in December 2018.

London is now a leading global tech hub, with thriving start-ups alongside major companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google. 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.
- Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

It’s not just London - roads across the UK are “digital deserts” with just 8% of A and B roads fully covered, and almost half having no coverage at all. Around 20% of buildings in cities and towns and almost 80% of those in rural areas across the UK don’t have 4G (3).

London remains Europe’s number one technology hub, with over 40,000 digital technology businesses employing almost 200,000 people, including global companies such as Google, and record levels of technology investment.

Boosting the city’s connectivity will inevitably deliver significant benefits to people who live and work in London, businesses, and the millions of visitors who pass through each year. It will provide enhanced productivity, increased digital inclusion… It will also ensure that London keeps pace with other major global cities competing for inward investment.
- BAI Communications UK CEO, Billy D’Arcy

3 reasons why connectivity is so important for business

1) Business growth

Technology start-up companies have reported no access to fibre optic broadband in the ‘Tech City’ area of London.

Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier told the Evening Standard: “We have some of the most technically focused companies relying on copper. I spoke to an entrepreneur who had to leave the area because the internet connection was so slow.”

Government investment in broadband and incentives for private companies to install better cabling would be welcomed to facilitate technology business growth.

2) Pollution reduction

Better connectivity is actually tied into another key pledge: reducing air pollution.

The air in London is a problem for people; it’s a killer. Does tech provide the solution? … If we treated ultrafast broadband as a central part of utilities, more people could work from home.
- Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at WeWork Moorgate in July.

A recent study showed 90 secondary schools in London were in areas with illegal and dangerous levels of air pollution - especially in Westminster, Tower Hamlets and Southwark. (4)

As a result, the Mayor has introduced an extra £10 charge for older, polluting cars to drive in central London from 23 October. It will apply on top of, and during the same times, as the congestion charge, meaning it will cost £21.50 a day to drive a pre-Euro 4 vehicle in the centre of London from 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday.

3) Remote working

At the same time, the London Waterloo upgrade during August has led to commuter chaos, and South West trains has advised commuters not to travel - and to work from home.

So there is no better time for you and your employees to consider home and remote working with the right collaboration technology. But this will depend on a robust, secure internet and mobile connection in any location, on any device, and better remote cybersecurity policies.

Businesses need fast and reliable connections across our capital - in the office, for people working from home and when they’re on the move. We should be making the most of our existing infrastructure, including the London Underground network to boost speeds and deliver coverage to areas that have been left behind.
- London First infrastructure director David Leam.

The challenges ahead

City centres often have problems, even when the rest of the city has fibre high speed broadband. Digging up older city centres to install fibre cabling can be disruptive, and engineers are more likely to encounter problems with listed buildings and historical pavements. Older cabling is often unable to handle the speeds and bandwidth of fibre broadband, and the nearest cabinet or exchange might be too far away.

FTTC is a crucial part of the UK Government’s ‘Broadband Delivery UK’ project and aims to reach 95% coverage by 2018 to more than 1 million new premises. London is one of Europe’s worst capitals for broadband technology with more than 340,000 residents in Zones 1 - 2 unable to access high-speed internet through older, poor quality lines.

A City Hall summit will bring London’s 32 local authorities together to apply for the Government’s Digital Infrastructure Funding. This Digital Connectivity Funding Forum will coordinate with the Greater London Authority’s Non-Spot Teams of digital experts to share ideas and best practices for councils to boost connectivity in individual areas.

Can’t wait? Need your connectivity improved now?

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Studies cited:

(1) London Assembly Regeneration Committee investigation into digital connectivity in London 2017

(2) Which? 2017

(3) National Infrastructure Commission 2016

(4) Top 100 London primary and secondary schools with highest NO2 levels 2016.

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