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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

Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell don’t need to stand again as MPs – they’ve already won

I just loathe these people. I want to see them humiliated. 

We’re a week in to the campaign, and it’s clear that the 2017 election is going to be hell on toast. The polls show the Tories beating Labour in Scotland (for the first time in a generation) and Wales (for the first time in a century). The bookies put the chances of a Labour majority at around 20/1, odds that are striking mainly because they contain just one zero.

The only element of suspense in this election is whether Theresa May will win a big enough majority to keep Labour out of power for a decade, or one big enough to keep it out for an entire generation. In sum: if you’re on the left, this election will be awful.

But there was one bright spot, a deep well of Schadenfreude that I thought might get us through: the campaign would provide plentiful opportunities to watch the people who got us into this mess be humiliatingly rejected by the electorate yet again.

After all, Ukip’s polling numbers have halved since last summer and the party has fallen back into fourth place, behind the pro-European Lib Dems. Nigel Farage has failed to become an MP seven times. It thus seemed inevitable both that Farage would stand, and that he would lose. Again.

If the vexingly popular Farage has never made it to parliament, the odds that his replacement as Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall (the Walter Mitty of Bootle), would manage it seemed minimal. Ukip may have won last year’s referendum; that did not mean its leaders wouldn’t still lose elections, preferably in the most embarrassing way possible.

The true highlight of the election, though, promised to be Clacton. The Essex seaside town is the only constituency ever to have returned a Ukip candidate at a general election, opting to let the Tory defector Douglas Carswell stay on in 2015. But Carswell’s libertarian belief that Brexit was definitely not about immigration always seemed an odd fit with Ukip, and he left the party in March. In the upcoming election, he seemed certain to face a challenge from the party’s immigration-obsessed donor Arron Banks.

The Clacton election, in other words, was expected to serve as a pleasing metaphor for Ukip’s descent back into irrelevance. The libertarians and nativists would rip chunks out of each other for a few weeks while the rest of us sniggered, before both inevitably lost the seat to a safe pair of Tory hands. This election will be awful, but Clacton was going to be brilliant.

But no: 2017 deprives us of even that pleasure. Carswell has neatly sidestepped the possibility of highlighting his complete lack of personal support by standing down, with the result that he can tell himself he is quitting undefeated.

Carswell has always stood apart from Ukip but on this matter, at least, the party has rushed to follow his lead. Arron Banks spent a few days claiming that he would be running in Clacton. Then he visited the town and promptly changed his mind. At a press conference on 24 April, Paul Nuttall was asked whether he planned to stand for a seat in Westminster. Rather than answering, he locked himself in a room, presumably in the hope that the journalists outside would go away. Really.

As for Farage, he seems finally to have shaken his addiction to losing elections and decided not to stand at all. “It would be a very easy win,” he wrote in the Daily Tele­graph, “and for me a personal vindication to get into the House of Commons after all these years of standing in elections.” He was like an American teenager assuring his mates that his definitely real Canadian girlfriend goes to another school.

Why does all of this bother me? I don’t want these people anywhere near Westminster, and if they insisted on standing for a seat there would be at least the chance that, in these febrile times, one of them might actually win. So why am I annoyed that they aren’t even bothering?

Partly I’m infuriated by the cowardice on show. They have wrecked my country, completely and irrevocably, and then they’ve just legged it. It’s like a version of Knock Down Ginger, except instead of ringing the doorbell they’ve set fire to the house.

Partly, too, my frustration comes from my suspicion that it doesn’t matter whether Ukip fields a single candidate in this election. Theresa May’s Tories have already assimilated the key tenets of Farageism. That Nigel Farage no longer feels the need to claw his way into parliament merely highlights that he no longer needs to.

Then there’s the fury generated by my lingering sense that these men have managed to accrue a great deal of power without the slightest hint of accountability. In the south London seat of Vauxhall, one of the most pro-Remain constituencies in one of the most pro-Remain cities in the UK, the Labour Leave campaigner Kate Hoey is expected to face a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats. Even Labour members are talking about voting tactically to get their hated MP out.

It remains to be seen whether that campaign succeeds but there is at least an opportunity for angry, pro-European lefties to register their discontent with Hoey. By contrast, Farage and his henchmen have managed to rewrite British politics to a degree that no one has achieved in decades, yet there is no way for those who don’t approve to make clear that they don’t like it.

Mostly, though, my frustration is simpler than that. I just loathe these people. I want to see them humiliated. I want to see them stumble from gaffe to gaffe for six weeks before coming fourth – but now we will be deprived of that. Faced with losing, the biggest names in Ukip have decided that they no longer want to play. And so they get to win again. They always bloody win. 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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