A few months ago, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made two significant steps towards boosting the Capital’s connectivity infrastructure. First, he pledged to deliver 4G network coverage on London’s entire Underground transport network by 2019. Furthermore, a troubleshooting ‘Not-Spot Team’ has been proposed, which will seek out London’s areas of weakest mobile internet coverage and oust them like the plague. As Mr Khan explained, “[the government] is 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.”
Although Mr Khan did not put a deadline on his ambitions to solve above ground connectivity issues, the government will be expected to demonstrate real progress in improving the city’s internet speeds and reliability over the next few years. Poor wireless connectivity has been hampering London’s businesses and consumers for some time, and this is not an issue that will fade away from public consciousness a year from now. In a survey we conducted with OnePoll, over one third of Londoners said they ‘regularly’ have issues making and receiving mobile phone calls in their home; and a similar percentage of respondents said they regularly have mobile internet connectivity problems in their home. In enterprise, it’s often the same story. Our research also found that 43% of London’s high street shoppers cannot browse the web on mobile when in-store. This is a big problem for retailers, considering that just over a quarter of people say they would leave a shop if they had poor connectivity.
The latter part of Mr Khan’s statement – on working with local authorities to raise London’s global tech credentials – raises interesting considerations. Integral to widespread, robust 4G and later 5G networks throughout the city will be a much heavier reliance on ‘small cells’, to boost connectivity in those hard to reach not-spots. This means that local authorities will need to work closely (and the sooner the better) with network operators to allow the installation of these units on lampposts and buildings, to provide connectivity wherever it may be needed. The government can also assist operators by allowing them, where practical, to deploy hardware such as phone masts on government-owned buildings and facilities. This will again help enhance coverage, but with minimal interference to the interests of private property.
Whether in homes and businesses, or while travelling on the Underground network, one thing remains certain for the future of London’s networks — user experience is everything. The City of London has its work cut out over the next two years in order to ensure 4G is provided in the Underground by 2019. And, of equal importance, is the level of service; passengers will not only expect 4G coverage, they will want to be able access all of the features associated with uninterrupted fast mobile internet connectivity. Whether making clear voice calls, transferring important files to a client before a meeting or even streaming video on their journey to work, inconsistent coverage or unreliable service will not suffice (and would place the government in a very awkward position).
As a director at London First, an independent organisation invested in promoting the city’s business and economic prospects, noted, “We should be making the most of existing infrastructure…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.”
The Mayor has officially set the stage on behalf of the government to propel London to the dizzying heights of a ‘global tech hub;’ hopefully the government and operators can work harmoniously to deliver efficient and cost-effective measures and results to achieve this.