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Digital infrastructure critical to future development of London

Mayor Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan will treat access to digital infrastructure as critical to the city’s development over the next 20 to 25 years

The provision of fit-for-purpose digital network infrastructure is now just as critical to the development of London as energy, water and waste management services and must be treated with equal importance, according to London mayor Sadiq Khan’s draft London Plan, a key document setting out priorities for the capital over the next 20 to 25 years.

Khan said he wanted to make London into “a pioneering smart city with world-class digital connectivity supporting more digital devices to improve the lives of Londoners and enable businesses to thrive”.

The new London Plan, which will now enter a lengthy round of consultations and public examination ahead of final publication in the autumn of 2019, set out a broad swathe of new and updated policies governing virtually all aspects of London’s development, such as building regulations, health and social care, education, transport and environmental sustainability.

The new plan acknowledged that when it comes to digital connectivity, London’s capabilities are still limited by a number of issues, such as mobile not-spots and lack of availability of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband.

It put forward a number of objectives with the aim of improving this situation, arguing that digital connectivity with a focus on affordability, security and resilience should be promoted, with a particular emphasis on the specific requirements of business clusters, such as symmetrical upload and download speeds on fixed broadband connections.

The plan also called for a new approach to networking in new developments. The 2010 Building Regulations already require buildings to be equipped with at least 30Mbps-ready in-building physical infrastructure, but the plan points out that using higher-grade infrastructure could drive connectivity speeds closer to 1Gbps.

Future developments in London may be required to have sufficient ducting space for infrastructure upgrades, to meet requirements for mobile connectivity and mitigate the possibility of reducing mobile network quality in the immediate vicinity, and to support the use of the public realm – meaning street furniture – to accommodate mobile digital infrastructure, such as small cells, something many London boroughs are already working on.

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For some larger commercial developments, in particular large, warehouse-based datacentres, which have emerged as a key driver of industrial demand in London over the past few years, the plan will introduce new measures to better meet the requirements of such facilities in terms of communications access and security.

Going forward, the mayor will work with communications service providers, property developers, borough councils and central government to develop better guidance and share best practice to increase awareness and capability among boroughs and developers of effective network provision.

The mayor’s office will also provide more help to identify gaps in connectivity and not-spots, and overcome the barriers to addressing this form of digital exclusion. Khan stressed that borough councils should “encourage the delivery of high-quality, world-class digital infrastructure as part of their digital strategies or corporate plans”.

The plan also set out key objectives around using network connectivity to support smart city projects in London, and said new developments should be fitted with smart infrastructure to monitor the performance of the built environment through data collection as a matter of course.

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