The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has approved the first step in improving Wi-Fi connectivity across the capital.
Whilst many of London’s businesses, public bodies and cultural attractions already offer free Wi-Fi access, these often require sign up processes and logging in every time they are used.
An open-access Wi-Fi network for London, with a single seamless experience would hugely increase accessibility and convenience for Londoners and visitors. This would benefit not only visitors navigating the city, but also aid business transactions and help the increasing number of remote workers making the most of flexible working conditions.
Free public Wi-Fi also helps social empowerment, giving people from all backgrounds access potentially life-changing information, including job opportunities, health advice and online courses. International tourists, including European visitors post-Brexit, often face high mobile roaming costs for using 4G and 5G services in the UK, whilst many Londoners use free Wi-Fi hotspots to avoid overspending on mobile data plans.
As part of the Mayor’s Digital Access for All mission, Sadiq has allocated £20,000 to create a plan for City Hall and his business growth and destination agency London & Partners, to improve internet connectivity for visitors and Londoners. This involves consulting with key stakeholders such as the Wireless Broadband Alliance, Wi-Fi and mobile network operators, boroughs overseeing key destinations across the capital and international cities with experience in delivering open access internet.
Possible solutions include technology such as an OpenRoaming network, which could allow users to seamlessly connect to Wi-Fi networks that have adopted the technology, as they travel around the city without the need for passwords or inputting additional credentials. OpenRoaming has already been trialled over smaller areas in London, including the London Stadium and Canary Wharf.
Improving internet connectivity for visitors is a key priority of London’s Visitor Experience Strategy, which was led by London & Partners in consultation with the wider tourism industry. The strategy aims to improve the visitor experience when visiting the city.
The Mayor has led the introduction of high speed mobile coverage on London’s transport network, the latest improvements being on the central section of the Elizabeth Line. 20 per cent of Tube stations with platforms underground now have mobile coverage, with this number expected to double by Spring 2024 as the rollout continues at pace.
Tourism is an essential part of London’s economy, employing 700,000 people – one in seven of the capital’s jobs – and accounting for 11.6 per cent of the capital’s economic output.
The consultation, carried out by telecoms and digital infrastructure specialists is expected to report recommendations early in the new year.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “Our capital is roaring back from the pandemic, with tourists from around the world joining Londoners in enjoying all of the fantastic attractions on offer.
“I want every Londoner and visitor to have the very best experience possible and in our connected world that means having access to fast, reliable, seamless internet access. This consultation will be the first step towards delivering better digital services for all, building a better and more prosperous city for everyone.”
Theo Blackwell, London’s Chief Digital Officer, said: “There’s a really exciting opportunity to make existing Wi-Fi networks easier to use by joining them up. This discovery will provide options around the feasibility of creating a seamless experience as people travel from place to place. It forms part of our work to improve digital access, which has seen a massive jump in gigabit connectivity to homes and businesses, and work with London’s boroughs to tackle digital exclusion.”
Laura Citron, CEO of London & Partners added: “Having reliable, free internet is important for our city’s visitors. It’s not just about being connected – it opens up new ways to explore London with guides, apps, and helpful services, making the overall visitor experience better. We look forward to seeing the recommendations early next year.”