London's broadband

As the London Mayoral campaign heats up, there is a great deal of media focus on the state of the capital’s broadband and the responsibilities that the new mayor will have in fixing it. Headlines such as ‘New London Mayor urged to take ‘drastic action’ on capital broadband’ frequently attract the attention of voters.

So what is the state of London’s broadband and what kind of effect is it having on the economy?


Copper Infrastructure

A recent YouGov poll which was commissioned by the Foundation for Information Society Policy (FISP) found that over 1 million Londoners are unhappy with the speed of their broadband and only a third believe that the capital’s infrastructure has the necessary capacity to meet future requirements.

The problem lies in the outdated way in which the broadband infrastructure operates in London. Rather than being made up of fibre networks, it instead relies on a mix of fibre and copper. Fibre cables run to the cabinets in the streets outside London buildings and homes – at this point copper takes over and delivers the signal the rest of the way into the property. This radically reduces the speed of the overall broadband service in comparison to all-fibre networks. However, the cost of running extra fibre-optic cables across the capital is expensive and will of course disrupt street traffic.


Ignoring London’s Broadband Problem Causes Economical Issues

Unfortunately, whilst many London businesses and residents put up with the slow speed and capacity of their broadband service, it is detrimental to the growth of the capital’s economy. FISP member and telecoms analyst, David Brunnen comments

This dangerous situation will diminish economic and societal growth in the future, unless London’s incoming mayor is able and willing to take drastic action. Slow broadband has a particularly negative effect on those who are trying to work flexibly from home, and on small businesses and startups based in people’s homes. They are reliant on speedy internet to run successful operations.”

This legacy copper infrastructure is clearly having a negative impact on tech startups in the capital. Although Tech City has been extremely successful since its 2010 launch, the state of London’s broadband speed is holding the city back from being recognised as one of the digital capitals of the world. It even faces competition within the UK. A tech hub called C4DI in Hull is hoping to attract some of London’s top tech talent with the lure of superfast fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband that boasts download speeds of up to 100Mbps. If this East Yorkshire city can divert tech startups away from the capital, then this will of course have a disturbing effect on London’s economy.


How Much Is The Cost Of Broadband To Blame?

Some experts believe that the media is getting it wrong. It’s not necessarily that the fibre architecture isn’t present in London, but more that companies are not willing or able to utilise it. Businesses in London are being charged approximately four times as much for super-fast broadband in comparison to those who are based in Bucharest, Romania. This added expense is one which many businesses choose to do without. Therefore companies are creating their own business inertia by refusing to budget for better speeds and capacity.

Another problem exists in the form of office-sharing. Startups who are looking to save costs in Tech City often co-work in premises with other businesses which means sharing a single Internet connection. Building managers are frequently unable or unwilling to upgrade their infrastructure to accommodate an FTTP network. This affects the productivity and stability of a tech startup in the capital. Without the injection of innovation into the capital, then London will still lag behind tech hubs such as Amsterdam and Silicon Valley who all boast faster broadband speeds.

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