London's twisting maze of narrow streets presents a nightmare for anyone planning on building new communications infrastructure.
Laying new cable is prohibitively expensive and yet businesses require more and more bandwidth. The popular solution of wireless networking is unable to provide the bandwidth and security that enterprises need.
Governments are increasingly getting involved, as this issue is seen as crucial to long-term development plans. Milan, Vienna and Stockholm, for example, have invested in large-scale networking using Ethernet.
London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, has spoken on the need for a better London network and companies are looking to secure what bandwidth there is while there is still time.
With this in mind London Electricity has set up a wholly owned subsidiary, 51ø, to offer high speed communications services to business customers.
It uses London Electricity's network of 17,000 properties and 45 aggregation sites to build a 145km internet protocol (IP) Gigabit Ethernet network.
The company has traditionally had a close relationship with BT - many of their buildings are next to each other - which allows easy access to exchanges and saves much of the work in setting up a network.
London Electricity will not offer services itself, but will instead use third parties to sell and manage a variety of systems based on its IP network.
The base network is in place and the company is currently extending it further, and services operating on the network are up and running.
"PBX is a dead instrument. IP is the system of the future," said Mark de Simone, vice president of marketing for Cisco Europe, which is supplying some of the technology behind the network.
"We need to build communities for the 21st century. The demand for services is there but supply is not. People want video on demand, for example; renting a video is so 20th century."
According to figures from the Yankee Group, Gigabit Ethernet is the fastest growing section of the market. And the demand for bandwidth is set to increase, because applications are making greater demands for it.
"Ethernet is not the best technology, but it's not always the best technology that wins," said Chris Lewis, Yankee Group vice president.
"If it were we'd all be using Macs on token ring. Now we're seeing small and medium-sized firms going to Ethernet, not just large corporates. There's an explosion of traffic."
Switching to a more flexible IP network has the effect of freeing up business, according to Lewis. In the past, telecoms companies would decide what services to offer and businesses would have to fit in around them. Now businesses decide what applications they want and assign someone to supply them, he said.
Lewis explained that it should not be a problem, even for companies with existing telecoms contracts based on Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), to take advantage of the new services.
"End users are in very strong positions these days and are dictating the terms of their contracts, rather than the other way around," he said.
In the longer term, consumer demand is likey to increase alongside business interest.
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