How creating London’s future is uncovering its past

The Romans founded London(ium) shortly after they arrived on these shores in 43AD. In the nearly 2,000 years since then the city has become a global centre for trade, learning and cultural exchange. The original square mile of the City remains home to London’s primary financial centre and the wider roughly 600 square mile radius is home to nearly 10 million people – all of whom depend on the city’s infrastructure to keep them moving and keep them safe.

As technology advances and the city grows, the constant need to provide and improve connectivity is one SSE Enterprise Telecoms is acutely aware of. As one of the nation’s leading connectivity providers, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to keep London’s citizens and businesses digitally enabled with fast, robust access. While we have our eyes firmly focused on the future of UK connectivity, we’re finding that some of the most effective solutions may lie in looking to the ground-breaking innovations of the past.

For example, our ‘fibre in the sewers’ initiative takes a fresh look at how to use the Victorian underground sewer infrastructure to create next-generation connectivity, enabling the distribution of fibre optic cables throughout Thames Water’s waste water network. Traditionally, telecoms networks have been created and expanded through civil construction ‘digs’, that involve laying cables just below the surface – a costly, time-intensive and disruptive way of establishing new connections. By using the existing waste water system, deep underground, we will be able to reduce network deployment costs and deploy connectivity services up to 10 times faster than through traditional digs.

Having looked to the possibilities of London’s centuries-old sewers, we’re now embarking on the next stage of our underground adventure – literally. Our latest investment in connectivity for the central London area is going deeper underground, laying fibre in the sewers.

The project will focus on the needs of the capital’s central business district; ensuring we’re arming businesses with agile, yet robust networks that support their ambitions both today and in the future.

Alongside the multiple benefits our new project will give our customers – such as diverse and direct routes, better security, faster deployment, minimal disruption and an improved carbon footprint – one of the most interesting and unexpected by-products of our underground explorations has been what we’ve found along the way. For example, in April this year we identified a ‘whale-sized’ (over 100m) concrete mass, nicknamed ‘concreteberg’, from Thames Water’s waste water pipe system. It turned out that nearly 105 tonnes of concrete had inadvertently been dumped into the sewer network over a period of time, building up the giant mass, which took several weeks to excavate.

Then, in September, a telecoms chamber installation dig uncovered human remains dating from the 1600s, underneath an ageing church near St Mary’s Axe, in the heart of the City of London – not far from a similar discovery of a 14th century burial ground just a little further along the Circle Line at Farringdon. Working closely with the local authorities, we were able to establish there was no foul play, the bones were reinterred close to where they were discovered and we continued on.

As a forward-looking business that understands and values legacy and innovation in equal measure, these discoveries – and what they’ve shown us about historic invention – has been unexpected but valuable. Whether you’re a history buff, a Londonphile, a trivia lover or just plain interested in our mission to get London connected and competitive, watch this space to hear and learn more as we progress.

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