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Mayor to Spread Full Fibre Over London by Going Down the Tube

Thursday, October 24th, 2019 (3:48 pm) - Score 3,038

The Mayor of London UK, Sadiq Khan, has today announced a new £10m project that aims to boost “full fibre” broadband coverage in the city by running optical fibre cables using the Tube network and public buildings. The work is considered to be the “first step” in their effort to “support faster connectivity for 400,000 homes.”

At present around 97% of premises in London can already access a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) network, which mostly stems from Openreach’s (BT) FTTC (VDSL2) technology and Virgin Media’s soon to be Gigabit-capable cable network. On top of that around 70% of premises in London can also access “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) speeds; mostly as a result of Virgin.

Meanwhile the new generation of gigabit-capable (1Gbps+) “full fibre” networks are currently only available to around 13% of premises (Thinkbroadband), which is currently being delivered via a mix of operators such as Openreach, Hyperoptic, Virgin Media and Community Fibre etc.

In an effort to boost this the Mayor now hopes to make it possible for more of London to access gigabit-speed connectivity – starting with 118,000 properties in south London – by tackling “not spot” areas which suffer from poor connectivity.

According to the blurb, “new fibre optic cabling will be laid along TfL tunnels to create a ‘fibre backbone’ across London… [this] will cover the installation costs of linking these fibre optic cables to public buildings, such as community centres and libraries.” The hope is that this will in turn “reduce the cost to providers of laying cabling between the public buildings and Londoners’ homes and businesses.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said:

“London’s future digital connectivity will be built on fibre. High-speed connectivity is crucial for businesses of all sizes and sectors, not to mention Londoners accessing digital services at home and around the city.

This represents the largest investment in connectivity City Hall has ever made – the funding I’m announcing today unlocks the potential for us to use the Tube network and public buildings in bringing gigabit-speed connectivity to Londoners currently putting up with poor service.

I hope this provides the catalyst for further investment from the public and private sectors – I’m urging them to match my ambitions to get all Londoners connected.”

On the surface this sounds like wonderful news, although sadly no targets (timescales) or specific rollout plans are given for achieving the stated coverage. Indeed it’s unclear from the press release if this measure will directly result in the additional connection of 400,000 more homes to faster broadband (i.e. the figure sounds like more of an aspiration than a solid commitment).

Certainly running optical fibre down the tube may help in some areas, although there’s already a mass of core fibre running along streets above the tube. The challenge is often in the disruptive and costly street works, permits and wayleaves needed to reach and access poorly served buildings aboveground over the last stretches (the tube network isn’t dense enough to solve all of that).

Likewise the announcement contains no information about which ISPs, if any, have agreed to invest in order to extend out from this new backbone to connect poorly served homes (i.e. it’s unclear if they intend to conduct a future procurement or adopt a passive “build it and they will come” mentality). Such information is crucial since you need more than just an extra fibre backbone to solve the city’s wider problems.

NOTE: The biggest problem areas tend to exist around central London (e.g. Rotherhithe, Westminster and the city centre), where a lot of Exchange Only Lines (EOL) reside.

Secured from City Hall’s Strategic Investment Fund (SIF), this latest funding joins other investment of £15.4m from London Councils for west and north London, and £8.5m for central London from the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS / LFFN). An additional £1m is also being allocated by the Mayor to drive future investment from the public and private sectors, in light of the significant need for further funding.

UPDATE 25th October 2019 – 11:48am

London ISP Community Fibre has given us a useful comment on the development.

Graeme Oxby, CEO of Community Fibre, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“The news that Sadiq Khan has pledged to accelerate the roll out of a full-fibre network for London using the Tube network will be welcomed by every Londoner. London has long been behind the top global cities when it comes to digital connectivity, and it is good to see policy makers turning words into actions.

We’re delighted to hear the Mayor using terms like ‘full fibre’: full fibre connections are vital in providing truly future-proofed, fast and reliable internet connectivity. This is hopefully the first step in getting London ready for the smart technology of the future.

The challenge now will be whether the Mayor and local authorities choose the right infrastructure partners to bring their network to homes and businesses, and – most importantly, whether it can be done at prices that are fair, and at speeds that are in line with our ambitions as a truly global city. No-one should be left behind because of price/affordability.”

Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Avatar Meadmodj

    LFFN funding is there and I do not blame London joining the fray as LNNF provides all local government a method of subsidy to their public sector network costs but can they really argue that London doesn’t have the core Fibre capacity or competition?

    My view is that the real issue for London is getting the Fibre distribution for FTTP (restrictions, direct buried, historically bad plant). I see that by fanning out from tube stations to public buildings will provide another source but surely the tube stations are simply going to replicate the Central London exchanges. Would it not be better for TfL to open access to street level duct such as used for traffic lights etc to Altnets?

    • Avatar hv

      The problem with altnets is not necessarily using street level ducts but where to place their equipment.

      Altnets bring just one fibre to a building, then install a switch of some kind to the premises and cable flats with CAT5 cabling from there. They already seem to be happily using existing ducts and conduits to bring in the trunk fibre at least in SE16 – they are not digging up streets there.

      They are not able to serve houses unless it is a development with some communal space where they can place their kit and cable from there, and this is where the gap in London is. In practice it means Openreach doing the work for the rest I guess. Currently OR seems to think most of inner London not in scope for their current investment model. Anything to bring down the cost might help.

    • Avatar Fastman


      Are you talking about inner london In totality or the bit in bermondsey in particular

      Most of that area is former dock and has been a challenge and will be significant challenge due to the number of premises on e cables and premises that are direct in ground on some part or multiple dwelling units where there is either one or more issues to be able to serve them

    • Avatar Malcolm

      HV / Fastman – yes there does seem to be a lot of problems round the SE16 Greenland Dock area – Virgin said they were coming then didn’t – Hyperoptic said they were coming then didn’t – some properties in the Brunswick Quay area have received letters from Eco Matters regarding wayleave agreements – these are from BT Openreach so they can do surveys to see how they can connect the properties. Still not holding out much hope and still think we will be fobbed off with 4G come the USO next March – which I doubt will work due to the very large trees that will block all the signals and also no doubt the massive tree roots that will be presenting a lot of problems getting fibre cables to the properties. The problems in the SE16 area have been know about for years and with the current expansion plans in Canada Water surely it is time for BT Openreach to start planning to put some of those green exchange boxes so that they can serve the new properties and also the old properties (built in 1985 !) rather than leaving them on EO lines

  2. Avatar Mike

    Might just be the first thing Khan has done right.

  3. Avatar Jonny

    I have to assume this has been announced after doing some research into it, but I can’t see how running fibres in a tube tunnel with all of the regulations around doing that and getting access, bringing them up to the surface etc. is cheaper than just digging a pavement up. Would be good to get an understanding of the thought process.

  4. Avatar Alex Comerford

    Are there not already multiple carriers running fibre along the tube network? I know Energis and C&W did (showing my age).

    • Avatar Optimist

      I think that is right. And were not the redundant pipes built to transmit hydraulic power repurposed to carry fibre several years ago?

  5. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    One thing which strikes me is how deep some of the tunnels are. for example, I’ve done the interchange at Holborn station many times and the Piccadilly Line tunnel is well below the Central Line tunnel. Are there existing shafts to get cabling from street levels to the tunnels?

    • Avatar A_Builder

      Yes, there are vertical risers, often in air ducts, to get cables to the surface.

      Whilst I’d welcome this as another opportunity to the market I’m not sure it will be that attractive.

      There is a lot more to the tube than deep tunnels. There is surface trackside and all the associated side tunnels and linkways that make the thing as complex as it is.

      That being said the access requirements and limitations of a live railway are huge. As as the costs of H&S compliance.

      I’m not sure I’d go down this route/tunnel……I’d suspect that using LA/OR ducts would make more sense……

      Time will tell and excellent if it even gets fibre to one area.

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