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Old Street

William Newton, UK director at WiredScore, discusses Old Street Roundabout’s renowned connectivity issues.

London is unquestionably one of the world’s leading tech hubs. Last month, the EY Attractiveness Survey put the capital second only to Silicon Valley for international technology investors. This week’s acquisition of Magic Pony – a startup founded by two Imperial College London graduates and incubated in London’s Entrepreneur First – by Twitter shows the strength and depth of entrepreneurial talent here.

Internet connectivity plays a vital role in this success, and in businesses generally – whether accessing the cloud, hosting customers on the website or even simply sending an email. And with London’s digital economy booming, it is important that businesses can operate in spaces which enable their teams to be productive, innovative, and drive growth.

Despite this, talk to anyone who actually works in East London’s Tech City, and they’ll tell you those kind of spaces are hard to find. The epicentre of London’s tech scene has long been plagued by rumours of poor connectivity; it’s even been labelled ‘not fit for purpose’ by local startups.

Now many digital-dependent startups and companies are opting to leave Old Street Roundabout entirely; Coadec’s recent Startup Manifesto highlighted how crucial improving the digital infrastructure in the area is to these businesses. Given the network effects that emanate from clustering dynamic businesses together, the opportunity cost for London’s tech ecosystem is obvious.

What’s been going wrong?

The strain on Tech City’s connectivity is the result of a number of factors. Cobbled streets and large bus routes have slowed the process of laying fibre optic cables in the surrounding roads. Meanwhile, the rapid influx of demanding businesses is taxing the outdated cabling in the streets – and landlords haven’t always built the necessary infrastructure with the connectivity needs of both modern and future businesses.

What has been the result? Companies having to use mobile broadband solutions for months on end while Internet providers take an age bringing fibre into the building. Slow bandwidth speeds as businesses rely on domestic broadband products intended to be used by a family, not a cutting edge FinTech startup. Enormous outlays to get connected to modern fibre products and disrupted connectivity, leaving businesses with sporadic Internet or worse, no connection at all.

Raising the connectivity bar

Nowadays, however, we are now seeing real improvements. There is more fibre laid under the streets. Alternative connectivity methods are being deployed, such as the roof-based microwave and laser technology referred to as fixed wireless, which currently services over 400 buildings in Shoreditch.

There are an increasing number of connectivity hot spots and perhaps most importantly, we are seeing a greater number of landlords and developers bring connectivity to the top of their priority list when building and maintaining properties.

Yet for businesses and landlords alike, discussing a building’s connectivity capacity in a vacuum is hard. Businesses often end up leasing space without really understanding the connectivity limits within that building and when you are trying to move fast and break things, six months in a building with poor Internet access can feel like an eternity.

Landlords and occupiers have to engage transparently over current connectivity concerns, and take advantage of opportunities to improve on what we have today.

After all, before we can develop neural networks capable of advanced image recognition, we’ve got to get the basics right.