As someone who has always lived and worked in and around London, I love our Underground system and couldn’t imagine London without it. As my children frequently remind me though, you can love something but not always like it, and the tube is sometimes very difficult to like with its strikes and signal failures. Today is one of those days! I’ve just spent the last couple of hours fighting my way across London to attend the Amazon UK Summit in docklands (more on that in another blog post) and I’m not exactly feeling fresh and ready to network and absorb information.
I won’t comment on whether the RMT were right or not to call the strike, the media are doing a very good job of that already. My interest here is what part technology is playing in this situation, both how it’s causing it, and how it’s helping.
It’s not news that London Underground has been spending huge sums of money modernising the tube. The introduction of Oyster cards was a very visible example of this which has ultimately resulted in less need for ticket offices, but there has also been a huge amount of investment in train infrastructure and signalling as well. What I believe is less well known is how far this investment has pushed forwards the way the Tube functions, to the point now where signalling on a number of lines can now support driverless trains. Earlier this year, Boris Johnson (London Mayor) approved plans to order driverless trains with the unions promising “all-out war” over the plans. I expect LU’s march forwards with technology to be meet with stiff opposition from the unions, with the frequency and length of strikes increasing.
So how can technology help in this situation? I believe a lot, but getting it to work in a seamless, integrated way so that it’s easy to use is the key to having wide user adoption at a time of inconvenience like a Tube strike. Right now I’m writing this on a laptop on a bus. That in itself isn’t anything new (although it is a very nice laptop – a Dell Latitude E7440). I’m also connected up using Mobile Broadband, again nothing that new. What’s different is what I’m connected to, and how well it’s performing. I’m not connected to the Internet, I’m connected directly to our office network using our Mobile Broadband service, without using a VPN client of any form. Claranet has a wholesale agreement with the Three mobile network and its partner AQL, and through that partnership I have a SIM that’s natively on our office network, in the same way that many Claranet customer’s use the same technology to enable their staff to work remotely. It’s seamless, reliable, easy to use(particularly so because my oh so lovely Dell E7440 has integrated 3G), but better than anything, it’s fast. I just ran a speed test on this bus, and I’m getting 17Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds to the office.
So I’m very happy where I am at the moment. Signal failures of either kind aren’t going to hamper my productivity. I can work like I’m in the office with all the speed, simplicity and security I’m used to, but now I’ve reached the end of my bus journey I have the sun on my back, grass between my toes and a glass of cool lemonade in my hand. I love technology!