City of London launches 'world-class' wireless network to boost future broadband capacity

Local government expects the service to surpass recently rolled out in New York


Plans to expand free Wi-Fi and improve mobile coverage in the Square Mile were announced today that local government expects to transform the sluggish speeds of local broadband through the launch of a new cutting-edge gigabit Wi-Fi scheduled for spring 2017.

The proposals will provide residents, employees and visitors with a new network in place of the free The Cloud service currently in place, offering superfast speeds that support services such as video-on-demand over free City Wi-Fi.

Image: iStock
Image: iStock

"We want to bring affordable, gigabit connectivity to the Square Mile," said chair of the policy and resources committee at the City of London Corporation, Mark Boleat, speaking at a launch event in the capital today.

London boasts a booming fintech scene, but its broadband infrastructure is major impediment on its ambitions of being a leading global centre for the digital economy.

The city currently ranks 26th out of 33 in European capitals for download speed according to the Commons Library of the UK Parliament and is home to four of the country’s twelve constituencies with the worst superfast broadband.

An unfortunately timed tube strike didn't make it the best day to promote London's claim to being the best connected city in the world, but Boleat said the proposal would surpass the scheme launched by that of its rival to the claim of leading global financial centre, New York. The London plans involve a Wi-Fi mesh network rather than the hotspot network currently being rolled out in the Big Apple.

Digital Infrastructure Toolkit

The announcement consisted of two separate launches that together amount to the largest ever single investment in wireless infrastructure in the City of London.

In addition to the gigabit network, a 'Digital Infrastructure Toolkit' has been launched to improve connectivity for businesses by giving internet providers, SMEs, landlords and developers comprehensive support to speed up broadband installation.

The toolkit was designed to establish a common approach to broadband that promotes best practice for delivering services and saves all parties both time and money.

“It can be best described as making the existing system work better,” said Boleat.

Several property and telecoms companies are already using it the toolkit, which is is available for free online. Virgin Media has recently agreed to roll it out nationally, and other suppliers are expected to soon follow suit.

The standardised legal documentation and methodology includes a 'wayleave' agreement to provide building owners and communications operators with a template arrangement for telecommunications installations and maintenance that will expedite the process of installing broadband fibre.

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The existing documents will need some minor tweaks to reflect any changes enforced by the new Electronic Communications Code once it comes into force.

Future hopes for London broadband

The announcement is not the first grand government claim of an enviable future for broadband. In 2012, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt promised that Britain would have the "best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015".

Unlike the pledge made by Hunt’s five years ago, this one appears to have a solid strategy in place to back up the words.

More than 400 'small cells' will be built in the coming months using street objects such as lampposts and buildings to boost the strength and reliability of the current coverage that the city’s tall buildings and narrow streets have historically limited.

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"The Mayor is committed to improving London’s connectivity, including tackling the capital’s 'notspots' and ensuring providers have better access to public-sector property for digital infrastructure," said deputy mayor for business Rajesh Agrawal.

The network is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by May of this year. The chosen provider will be announced in the next few weeks.

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