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Winning the battle for bandwidth in tomorrow’s city centres

The UK is likely to see a ten-fold rise in mobile data usage over the next five years, fuelled by an insatiable consumer appetite for on demand video services. As data streams swell into data floods, fulfilling that demand becomes essential to attracting investment and remaining competitive. 

With analysts predicting an exponential increase in demand for wireless data services, delivering future-proofed network infrastructure has emerged as a vital element in city planning.

Data consumption in Western Europe is set to rise from around 1.9GB per month to 18GB per month.

Millennials not only represent the workforce of tomorrow, they also represent a new generation of digital natives with no experience of a world without YouTube. Talk might be cheap, as the saying goes, but overuse of mobile data is not, which is why so many millennials – especially the 35% under the age of 25 – believe that paying for internet access is a thing of the past.

The way to avoid exorbitant mobile data fees is to switch to WiFi, but unless you have a serious caffeine addiction and are willing to sit in Starbucks or Costa all day, accessing consistent public WiFi remains a challenge for most. According to the Digital High Street 2020 Report, nearly 43% of UK consumers are frustrated by the lack of free, public WiFi networks.

Around one in four people (24%) would be more likely to stay longer in a town or city centre that offered access to free WiFi.

It’s clear that to attract digitally-engaged customers, especially the affluent under-35 millennial segment, city centres have to meet this demand for always-online connectivity. However, to be viable, free-to-use public WiFi is dependent on the quality of its underlying broadband infrastructure.

Since November 2016, residents, businesses and visitors in Edinburgh have been able to enjoy a new free-to-access public WiFi network across the city centre. It’s the result of a 10-year WiFi concession, agreed with intechnologyWiFi that has seen Council-owned street furniture made accessible for the new WiFi network.

In addition to providing opportunities for local advertisers to reach out to consumers directly, the new infrastructure has also helped to boost capacity on the existing 4G mobile data network and paves the way for the roll out of a future 5G mobile data network. So how has this been possible?

UK’s largest Gigabit City

The answer lies beneath the pavements and roads of Scotland’s capital. Thanks to a collaboration between digital infrastructure builder CityFibre and local provider Commsworld, catalysed by the City of Edinburgh Council and driven by demand from local businesses, a groundbreaking 150km pure fibre optic network now criss-crosses Edinburgh. The resulting network establishes the city as the UK’s largest Gigabit City.

“It is a real coup for businesses and local services,” said James McClafferty, CityFibre’s Head of Regional Development in Scotland. “Since we launched the Edinburgh CORE network last summer we’ve delivered a truly transformational project.

“Future-proofing is key to all our Gigabit City deployments.” James continues. “When we build network, we are not just taking a single fibre into each site, we are laying down cables containing thousands of fibres, enough to meet the future demands of the entire city. What is more, with each new customer connection, we are extending the reach of our network to address even more sites across the city.”

"With the fibre network now in place, we're seeing the number of interested businesses increase rapidly, attracted by potential speeds of anywhere up to 40Gbps," adds Andy Arkle, commercial director, Commsworld.

That offer was further boosted in early 2017 with the opening of a 50-mile long dark fibre span linking the recently launched Fortis datacentre in North Lanarkshire and the Pulsant’s datacentre in western Edinburgh. This offers operating speeds of up to 100Gb/s between the two linked data centres. Businesses with offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow can now enjoy some of the fastest data connections in the UK.

Transforming education

The project started as a more humble installation, resulting from the UK Government’s Super Connected Cities programme. In 2014, when Commsworld first joined forces with CityFibre to deliver what was then a 40km-long network, The City of Edinburgh Council identified an opportunity to expand the network. A vision emerged to connect every school, library and Council-run site to the new fibre optic network.

 “We wanted a network that could meet future need, enabling staff to be more mobile, paving the way for more online services,” explained Ritchie Somerville, Innovation and Futures Manager at The City of Edinburgh Council. “Edinburgh has always been at the vanguard of digital learning across our schools estate and we wanted to support that journey.”

The result is an education estate in which all secondary schools have access to a 1Gbps network, while all primary schools can access bandwidths of 100Mbps. Each system has full redundancy, with at least two fibres going into each school site. All Council libraries, a focus for community activity, are now on a 100Mbps network and Council offices across Edinburgh are also connected to the Edinburgh CORE network.

“We believe that Edinburgh now has the fastest school estate in the UK” says Ritchie Somerville. “Not only will our high schools be running on a 1Gbps service, they can dial that up to 10Gbps relatively easily in the future,” adds Ritchie. “That additional connectivity and flexibility is paving the way for the digital classroom of the future.”

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com

Photo:Getty
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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.