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How London’s boroughs can enable great digital connectivity

by Billy D’Arcy, CEO UK & Ireland

In a cost of living crisis, how can cities like London help their residents access jobs and drive growth? And how can we make sure that the most vulnerable have the connectivity they need to access education, public services and other opportunities?

In June 2021, Boldyn Networks entered a historic £1bn investment partnership with Transport for London (TfL) to build a backbone of mobile and digital connectivity across London. The project with TfL, will deliver 4G and 5G-ready mobile coverage across the Tube network. But one of the reasons we were so excited about this partnership is that it will also see Boldyn Networks work with London boroughs to help them improve connectivity and digital inclusion. Building and improving London’s connectivity is a central part of driving growth and opportunity: 61% of London residents do not have access to full fibre broadband, even though the internet is often dubbed ‘the fourth utility’ after electricity, gas and water according to Ofcom’s Autumn Report 2022. 

As part of this partnership with TfL, we wanted to better understand how we could support London boroughs. What are their biggest challenges, and how can connectivity support these challenges? – whether it’s improving access to council services, supporting adult social care, helping to regenerate high streets, supporting access to education, getting good quality new housing developments or making sure existing social housing has reliable, fast and affordable access to the internet. 

We spoke to five London boroughs to get an idea of the biggest opportunities and challenges they face, and to understand how the Connected London project with TfL can help. 

We found: 

London boroughs are ambitious for technology to improve their public services, including adult social care and management of air quality and climate risk. But the more immediate first step is improving connectivity and addressing digital inclusion. 

Councils want to work with the private sector but are worried about getting locked into inappropriate technology that doesn’t solve real-world problems. 

Boroughs have a huge opportunity to improve connectivity for their residents and make full use of their own assets – including ducting and street assets. But they also want to make sure this is done with appropriate technology and monetised in a sustainable long-term way that delivers for residents and businesses. 

There is a big opportunity for boroughs to work with the private sector for connectivity improvement in social housing and housing association properties. Relatively straightforward measures like wayleaves and social broadband vouchers can incentivise private sector investment in social housing and support efforts to get better fixed and mobile connectivity in all parts of a borough. 

When it comes to working with the private sector, trust and commitment are key. Long term partnerships help boroughs monetise their own assets without taking on the risk of building and operating networks themselves. 

Neutral host technology is a way to help leverage council assets like ducting. It allows kit to be installed once (involving less disruption to residents and traffic) and used by multiple operators, generating revenue and improving 

The Connected London project with TfL is a huge opportunity for boroughs. The project will see Boldyn Networks deliver a fibre network through TfL’s underground tunnels and ducts, bringing fibre directly into London’s neighbourhoods. This backbone of connectivity can link in with boroughs’ plans to use red route assets like bus shelters and camera poles, as well as council-owned ducting, and bring reliable, high-speed connectivity to more people and businesses across London. 

As a result, we have developed a range of recommendations for boroughs, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and central government, that will help create the right conditions for further investment in digital infrastructure across London’s boroughs.