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London Assembly Warn City’s Broadband and Mobile is “frankly embarrassing”

Thursday, June 29th, 2017 (5:30 pm) - Score 708
City of london square mile united kingdom

A new report from the London Assembly’s regeneration committee has described the quality of mobile (4G) and fixed line broadband connectivity in the city as “frankly embarrassing.” The report also calls for more ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) to be deployed in order to “bypass the copper problem.”

At present most of London (96%) is already covered by a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) capable network, with Openreach’s (BT) ‘up to’ 80Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology being the most common form of connectivity (they also have some FTTP, as do Virgin and a few altnets like Hyperoptic).

Meanwhile Virgin Media’s 300Mbps+ cable DOCSIS network has quite a significant level of coverage and this helps to push the city’s “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) network coverage to an estimated 70% (details). Mind you all of this still leaves some pretty big gaps left to fill and the London Assembly appears to desire Gigabit (1000Mbps+) performance.

Navin Shah AM, Chair of the Regeneration Committee, said:

“London’s digital connectivity is frankly embarrassing in some areas and will no doubt lead to major issues in terms of London’s global attractiveness as a place to live, work and do business. We need to act before it’s too late and London’s success is threatened.

More can be done to solve London’s connectivity problems and with the imminent appointment of the Chief Digital Officer, the Mayor can provide real strategic leadership in this essential area.”

Suffice to say that the London Assembly’s regeneration committee, which has just completed its investigation into the city’s digital connectivity (Digital Connectivity in London), doesn’t mince its words.

London’s Digital Connectivity Report (Extract)

* The lack of an extensive fibre network

London does not have extensive full fibre connections. Spain now has 83 per cent of all of its buildings across the country connected to pure fibre. The UK has much less – around 3 per cent or even less – and not in London.

The vast majority of the fibre broadband offered by the UK’s main service providers in London is Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). In this setting, fibre only runs as far as the exchange cabinets in the street and customers have to rely on old copper wiring for the ‘last mile’. This reduces speed dramatically.

Fibre to the Home (FTTH) is needed to bypass the copper problem, with fibre going directly to the premises and providing speeds faster than 1 Gigabit per second. In competitor cities such as Paris or New York, there are fairly substantially large full fibre investment programmes underway in those cities that are not to be seen in London.

* Too many ‘not-spots’

London is also held back by limited mobile 4G coverage. From December 2016 to February 2017, consumer group Which? and analyst OpenSignal measured data from mobile phones across 20 cities in the UK. London ranked in the bottom 5 with 73.6 per cent of 4G coverage.

In the capital, areas that have very low or no broadband access and/or mobile connectivity are numerous. These ‘not-spots’ and ‘digital deserts’ are usually found in remote corners of rural Britain, but even central locations such as Westminster, the City of London and Southwark are affected, because of the length of copper lines, the street layout or the height of buildings.

The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has already promised to “do all [he] can to improve digital connectivity in London, establishing it firmly as a key utility central to planning and new development” and to that end he will soon appoint the city’s first Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and setup a so-called “not-spot team” to tackle problem areas. The report may at least give the CDO a few ideas about where to start.

Recommendations

* The Chief Digital Officer must support Londoners, especially renters, to make well-informed decisions about their connectivity needs. There is little reliable information available before moving into an area.

* The next London Plan should encourage boroughs to produce local connectivity plans to ensure sufficient access to a minimum level of broadband service. Applications for new developments should provide upgrades to connectivity to meet what is outlined in local plans.

* The Chief Digital Officer should encourage Transport for London to grant providers access to the ducts they own, so that they can use existing networks as opportunities.

So far we’re not seeing anything radically different from the sort of lip-service that the former mayor, Boris Johnson, similarly paid to the subject. The new report does identify some areas that could be improved (e.g. inconsistent wayleave processing, local authorities refusing new infrastructure etc.) and calls for “strong levels of public investment,” although it doesn’t put a price tag on the problem or propose detailed solutions.

Hopefully the new mayor will be able to come up with something that doesn’t involve merely claiming credit for work that the private sector has already done of its own accord.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner

    Yet another “frankly embarrassingly” badly researched report from the Assembly, which rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good headline. One of these days we’ll get politicians that have at least a basic understanding of technology and statistics, in the meantime we’ll get substandard nonsense like this.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      No reference to the London LEP funding some 196 BT cabinets, £12.5m in subsidies I think, but BT should be saluted for its c4,500 cabinets.
      They just about mention Virginmedia but not Colt.
      No reference to the reduction of BT investment from £2.5bn to £1.5bn when BT withdrew the FTTP element if the plan, the extra bn is now reported as operational costs.
      No reference to treating fibre access as a premium service for private circuits and what to do about it.
      Equally no reference to where BT has deployed FTTP which should be acknowledged.
      No reference to the 4G coverage obligation (98% by 2017) and how to enforce it.
      They did not look at <10Mbps for the B.USO. Even 1% of Greater London is proportionally huge given the BDUK progress.
      There is much than can be improved.

  2. Avatar MikeW

    Meanwhile, a mere 9 days earlier, there’s a report comparing London to a cohort of international cities, that concludes London is the best connected.

    http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2017/06/wireless-broadband-alliance-names-london-uk-connected-city.html

    • Avatar James Jones

      The two reports are looking into two separate things. The Wireless Broadband Alliance report just looks at how many are connected to the internet (at whatever speed). The London Assembly report is looking primarily at the access to superfast broadband.

      While London does well for the number of people connected it does score poorly compared to other major cities on access to superfast broadband.

      The London Assembly report is a bit clunky and has a few errors but the main argument is still correct. What is more important is what they intend to do about it. This isn’t the first report on connectivity from the London Assembly. Previous reports have been ineffective.

    • Avatar MikeW

      You’re right – two different things. But not that different really.

      The WBA report looks at how people are actually doing things with an internet connection, and what is holding people back. London scores poorly on poor skill levels and a lack of understanding the benefits. Not availability, nor of the quality of connection.

      That report tells you that London needs to invest in skills and awareness. Human investment.

      The London Assembly report does a bait & switch. Its introduction tells you that “superfast” broadband is the useful indicator, but then promptly draws conclusions based on ultrafast connectivity. It makes the usual leap that “only full fibre” will do without mention of the fact that technology improvements makes that a misleading measure.

      They also fallen for the CityFibre hype regarding the “gigabit city” label, where the reality is that gigabit services are already available to the market that CityFibre really sell into.

      Deep into the report, however, it finally reaches the issue of exclusion. The first 2 priorities for the CDO are in this area.

      In the end, it seems, the two reports are the same. Just that the assembly one feels the need to delve into hyperbole to start.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      @James Jones

      Yes, but it shows mindless chasing of magic speed numbers bears little resemblance to the actual economic impact. The most connected city report at least shows some economic benefit. In contrast, the London Assembly report is mostly about chasing headline numbers. If people thought a bit more about economic efficiency of investment and rather less about vanity numbers, then it might bring a bit more rationality to the debate.

  3. Avatar Web Dude

    Well, there was money for Crossrail, and there’s money for HS2 and Trident, but if the politicians had any sense, they would have considered, 7+ years ago, not to fund HS2 (or Trident replacement for that matter) and put funds into FTTC / FTTP UK-wide.

    It would have allowed regional data centres and possibly thousands of entrepreneurs outside the South East with relatively easy access to a hosting site to access their own hardware, and take away some of the business travelling if video conferencing took off via high speed internet for everyone.

    I won’t gloss over extremely awkward locations where terrain etc is a problem, but think the funds being used for other projects could have given us a fibre infrastructure by now (with a massive amount left over)…

    Though I know those other projects are yet to be developed and paid for, and perhaps 2010 would have seen a rocky start to any large scale expenditure for fibre deployment, in light of belt tightening.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      The idea that regional data centres don’t exist is just plain wrong. I should know, I worked on several huge data centres scattered across the country. Data centres don’t use mass market broadband networks. They use dedicated private circuits via diverse routes. Whilst you probably wouldn’t put one in the middle of nowhere, it’s not primarily the communications that is the issue. What is far more problematical is the provision of sufficient electric power. If the local power infrastructure isn’t available, then the costs (and timescale) for power provision can be prohibitively expensive as it goes right to the heart of the local power distribution company’s infrastructure. That’s especially the case where there is a requirement for resilient power feeds. In contrast, it’s generally a lot less restrictive when it comes to comms provision for data centres.

      Of course, when choosing sites from major data centres, planners will choose those where access to infrastructure resources, including network and power are available and cost effective. You will often find data centres in anonymous grey warehouse type buildings in industrial estates all over the country as that is often where power and network infrastructure is available and accommodation is cost-effective. Where good connections are required for peering, those services tend naturally to gravitate where those are easily available (hence a of Internet services gravitate towards Docklands).

      As far as what’s called colocation data centres are concerned, where there is physical access to equipment, that’s a rather specialised service. Any data centre hosting large numbers of servers accessed and owned by many different companies has to deal with some very difficult security issues. You simply can’t have large numbers of people wandering around a data centre. The sort of data centres that do provide for this have to provide server facilities which have physical security and network and infrastructures designed so that visitors only have access to their own equipment and cannot disrupt other customers systems. That involves things like locked cabinets, metal cages, air-gapped equipment and some very rigorous physical security systems. There are services like this all over the country, but the costs of running them are necessarily high and they are therefore expensive. It also means that you are unlikely to find Enterprise-standard colocation sites just around the corner. However, you will find them in, or near, major cities like Manchester, London, Glasgow, Birmingham and so on.

      I should add that there are any number of smaller companies that host services locally, but they probably do so on a rather different basis to the major colocation operators.

      There are lots of different server hosting models out there ranging from the mass-market ones that will provide virtual machines and dedicated servers to those that will provide a dedicated server room. But the more physical access you want, the more expensive it will be and there will be geographic limitations. If you want the sort of service and access that a Telehouse supplies, then you will be very limited as to location.

    • Avatar 125uS

      There are data centres all over the UK, many with terabits of network capacity. Consumer broadband isn’t the technology used to deliver that capacity. You can order right now gigabit or multi-gigabit Internet and VPN connections to pretty much any location in the country from a whole range of providers, some using BT’s network and some using their own.

      FTTP as a business or corporate product set has existed for at least the last two decades.

    • Avatar Web Dude

      – Steve Jones – many thanks for your insights. I was aware of certain cities having data centres, and while LINX is well known, and Manchester has its own interconnect I wasn’t aware that power was such a problem (though before the 2012 Olympics in London, there was some news report elsewhere about insufficient electrical capacity for more data centres within the M25.

      Indeed, much of my suggestion for more regional services is because the infrastructure across the board in London and South East is under strain, costs for land and everything else are relatively high etc.

      – 125uS – I am well aware that consumer broadband isn’t used, but higher speeds nationwide would allow for more entrepreneurial ventures. The data centres aspect was so anyone, even in “the sticks” might be under 100 miles from some such a data centre. Faster ‘consumer broadband’ technology would, however, enable someone to teleconference rather than need to travel away all the time to business discussions. One of my colleagues has work involving installation of equipment for various company directors, who buy property in the middle of nowhere and then complain when there is poor internet connectivity…

      Now so much more is possible over the internet, it should be no surprise the along with a nice few acres of land, someone spending a few million for a big property in the country is likely to expect the facilities in telecommunication terms to match what is available in more urban areas. If money had been set aside in 2010 for a greater fibre network for consumer broadband, there could have been a much smoother, level, playing field than how we find it at present.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @WD – if they are paying several million for a property then a dedicated link should not be a problem for their business to pay for.

      Consumer/business FTTP is nothing to do with data centres. BT was installing ethernet and ISDN fibre circuits 30 years ago.

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