London’s Square Mile to get new Wi-Fi and cellular small cell network

New free Gigabit Wi-Fi network to be rolled out from May with 400 cellular small cells to follow; wayleaving legal agreements for broadband fibre to buildings to be made easier

London’s Square Mile to get new Wi-Fi and cellular small cell network

The City of London is to boost its wireless connectivity credentials by investing in a new free Gigabit Wi-Fi network and rolling out 400 cellular small cells to improve mobile coverage. 

It is also launching a new standardised legal document and toolkit aimed at speeding up negotiations to install broadband fibre to buildings – a process known as a wayleave - and to cut the cost of doing so. 

Unveiling the initiatives today (9 January 2017) Mark Boleat, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee said:“As the world’s leading financial hub, we are thrilled to bring our wireless connectivity up to speed.

“At a time when other major financial centres are competing with us, the Square Mile is boosting its appeal through initiatives such as this. The new service will allow City workers to become better connected than ever before.” 

Boleat pointed out that London currently suffers from poor broadband speeds and ranks 26th out of 33 European capitals in terms of broadband speed. ‘London is not great on digital connectivity and the mobile signal coverage is patchy. We are launching two things today that will not solve the problem, but which will make things better.’ 

The Wi-Fi network

The new Gigabit Wi-Fi network will arrive first providing a mesh network (as opposed to just individual hotspots) and will replace the current free Wi-Fi service provided by the Cloud. The Cloud legacy network has been in place for 10 years and is used by approximately 300,000 users. 

The new Wi-Fi equipment will provide gigabit speeds and see users able to enjoy high bandwidth services like video on demand over free City Wi-Fi for the first time. The service will surpass that found in the world’s other major international financial centre – New York, it is claimed.

Steven Bage, strategic infrastructure advisor, in the City Surveyor Department, explained that the public tender for the work has been completed and radio frequency surveys are underway to find the best sites for the access points (APs) The APs will also get dedicated fibre installed for backhaul.

The project is the single largest investment in wireless infrastructure ever seen in the City of London and will be rolled out from late spring 2017. The winning provider for the delivery of this work and Wi-Fi AP vendor will be announced in the next few weeks.

The cellular small cell network

In an effort to boost mobile phone connectivity and eliminate ‘notspots’ the City is also going to install over 400 cellular small cells, which will be built in the coming months. They will boost the strength and reliability of the current wireless coverage by using street objects like lampposts, street signs, buildings and CCTV columns. 

The combination of the Square Mile’s tall buildings and narrow, historic streets mean that in some areas mobile service has been unreliable for some of the 400,000 City workers and 10 million yearly visitors.

The new technology will enhance coverage, making working on-the-go easier.  By utilising these street objects, the City will be able to boost the strength and reliability of the current wireless offer.

However, the small cell solution will not (at least at first) be a multi-operator one, Bage said in reply to a question on the issue. He said that they could not find a multi-operator solution at the time of drawing up the contract, other than distributed antenna systems (DAS).

The name of the small vendor, mobile operator partner and system integrator will also be revealed in a couple of weeks. Deployment is due to being in June 2017 and will continue into 2019.

London’s Deputy Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal, (who was unable to make the launch due to a Tube strike) said in a pre-prepared statement:“Fast and reliable digital connectivity is crucial for businesses and I’m really pleased the City of London Corporation is taking this significant step in improving speed and coverage in the Square Mile.

“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.”

While London is the number one global financial centre according to the Global Financial Centres Index published by the Z/Yen Group, other centres like New York, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong have invested in their information and communications (ICT) technology infrastructure in recent years.

ICT is set to become more of a major competitive issue and something that will attract more investment into centres with enhanced connectivity. Boleat noted that the new service will pave the way for an easier adoption of 5G technology, which is expected to be launched by the end of this decade.

Digital Toolkit for broadband fibre access

The final part of today’s announcements by the City of London Corporation related to a new standardised legal document (first launched in July 2016), which will speed up the process for businesses to get superfast broadband.

By working with London’s main developers, landlords, broadband operators, including Virgin Media, property managers, Government, legal firms and key trade associations set of tools were produced which make it easier and faster to agree digital connections. 

A key element is a standardised legal agreement - known as a wayleave. Previously, business tenants faced long negotiations with providers to agree new wayleaves from scratch each time they wanted to get broadband fibre installed.The toolkit can be found here.

Boleat said the tool kit essentially uses what is already in place, but it is designed to make it more efficient and cheaper. The Toolkit has been endorsed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and has been downloaded over 2,000 times so far.

The idea is, that although it will not give everyone everything they’d like, it at least provides a standard all parties can become familiar with, which should speed up wayleave negotiations.

The initiative was developed by Central London Forward, a forum put together by the eight inner London Boroughs, but the hope is the digital toolkit and standardised legal agreement will be adopted by other London boroughs and nationally.

Bage added that there is also a move to standardise contracts and negotiations for the installation of outdoor mobile small cells. This will be worked on in 2017. The City of London Corporation will put money into the research, but will not be running it.


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