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Driving a hub of innovation with O2

By Lee Hargadon, Head of Specialist Sales and Enterprise Mobility, O2.

The first time I saw Canary Wharf was in 1991. I was in the back of a Ford Capri on the QE2 Bridge heading for Dover. Four weeks of inter-railing followed. It was the ‘gap year’ of the day, long-since replaced by the more glamorous sounding treks around Asia or South America.

Much has changed since those days, and after a recent visit to Canary Wharf, I reflected on the change there and O2’s involvement in many of the innovations that have unfolded in this once unloved corner of East London.

The reason for my visit was our annual conference, held for all the O2 team at – where else – The O2. Its first incarnation was as the Millennium Dome, it’s now the world’s most popular music venue and O2 were proud to extend our ground-breaking partnership with AEG for a further 10 years.

We heard at the conference of our plans for investment. Good news echoed by success in the latest spectrum auction. Our customers are feeling the benefits already, as within weeks of the auction closure, we added extra spectrum in London.  And up to 1000 new 4G sites will follow before the end of 2018.

Running outside The O2 were some autonomous vehicles, part of a proof of concept led by the Transport Research Laboratory. We’re the connectivity partner on the project and pleased to see members of the public excited by ground breaking transport solutions enabled by connectivity.

Over the water towered Canary Wharf itself. One Canada Square to be precise, alongside the numerous other skyscrapers. The area is a great testament to how construction, redevelopment and technology can be harnessed. A pre-cursor to the autonomous vehicle was the Docklands Light Railway, connecting the area to the City and beyond. O2 installed free street-level wifi in the area five years ago. O2 Wifi is now the UK’s largest public wifi service, and it’s free for everyone, whether an O2 customer or not. Innovation at its best.

But all of this is in the past, so what’s next? Well, O2 recently announced a 5G test bed will be deployed to parts of The O2 later this year. O2 customers will be able to experience ground-breaking technology via a variety of demonstrations. Hugely important as5G is expected to support over one million connected ‘things’ per sq KM. The possibilities of this are infinite and will prove a serious disruptor to existing connectivity methods and open up new possibilities given its fantastic speed and low latency.

Finally, let’s fast forward to September this year when The O2 will play host to O2 Live, a three-day event delivering the best in music and technology.

After the conference I ran around Greenwich Park. The connection between the Royal Observatory in the park and the view to Canary Wharf is stark, but there is a link. At the Observatory we set Greenwich Mean Time, providing time for the world, and commanded the seas. Those same ship dockyards fell derelict, but have since risen to become Europe’s largest urban regeneration programme and a hotbed of innovation, one O2 are proud to play our part in.

Next time you are in the area, take a moment to look around and ponder what will come next.

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