With remarkable generosity, Huawei of China, is offering to provide the infrastructure necessary to provide the benighted population of London with mobile comms coverage in, on and through the Underground railway network by the summer of next year. The technology, worth £50 million, would be "a gift from one Olympic nation to another". Martyn Warwick reports on a remarkable example of Sino-altruism.
Much is made of the fact that the cost of mounting and managing the Games of the XXX Olympiad at its various venues around London is paid for by private funding. However, the fact of the matter is that the UK government is spending God knows how much of tax payer money on redeveloping the venues for the Olympic Games and installing/constructing the necessary infrastructure.
It is almost impossible to put a price on the exercise because budgets have been bust time, time and time again as the enormous and fatuously inflated cost figures rise. However, and despite the austerity programme introduced by the Coalition government to balance the national accounts that is costing jobs and seeing wholesale destruction of services and infrastructure elsewhere, colossal sums are being taken from stretched tax revenues to pay for a vanity project that will, at best, leave a very dubious legacy.
What's more, the lucky residents of the metropolis are being required to pay more via a very hefty surcharge on their municipal taxes to pay for what will result, in 18 months time, with London being saddled with a white elephant of gargantuan proportions.
The London Olympics of 2012 will consume tens of billions of pounds with 64 per cent of the costs being met by central government, 13 per cent from local government of London itself (with some contribution from the London Development Agency) and 23 per cent being prised from the pockets of the mugs who play Britain's National Lottery - a "game" where you have more chance of being struck by lightening and then murdered three times, by three different methods on the same day than you do of winning anything near a million quid.
Hey, but fear not. There is a sliver lining. Huawei is willing to gift us £50 million's worth of kit so that we can have mobile coverage in the Tube in time for the Games. One has to wonder why.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been pushing for the Underground to be fitted with the necessary leaky feeder technology well in time for the opening of the Games and has talked loudly (as is his wont) about "bashing the heads together" of the UK's mobile operators to make them co-operate in bringing mobile telephony to the Underground.
However, the networks aren't that keen on dancing to Boris's stentorian bellowings as the mayor himself admits that the cost of the exercise is likely to be in the range of £150 million.
A spokesperson for Transport for London, the local government body responsible for most aspects of public transport in Britain's capital city, says his organisation "and the Mayor of London are currently in discussion with mobile phone operators and other suppliers about the potential provision of mobile phone services on the deep Tube network. Given the financial pressures on TfL's budgets, any solution would need to be funded through mobile operators with no cost to fare or taxpayers. Discussions are ongoing."
(Fares on the London Underground system are the most expensive in earth)
These discussions are now centred around getting Vodafone and O2 to pay the actual cost of installing the "free" Huawei equipment, whilst the Chinese company says that all it wants is to make income from maintenance fees.
Naturally enough, Londoners themselves have not been consulted as to whether or not they want mobile coverage in the Tube, but many won't. Travelling conditions are already hellish enough without adding yet another layer of noise and disruption to a miserable experience.
Meanwhile, Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee is somewhat suspicious of Huawei's offer in that it could "represent a potential threat to the London's security".
At the same time, the Conservative MP, Patrick Mercer, says that whilst a mobile network in the Tube would be "extremely helpful" for workers in the event of an emergency he also admits that it would be "the answers to a terrorist's prayers" because the network would make it possible to detonate bombs remotely anywhere in the Underground system.
Mr. Mercer says, "It has been proven that a proportion of the cyberattacks on this country come from China. I wonder. when the eyes of the world are upon us, whether there is sense in using a Chinese firm to install a sensitive mobile network."
Huawei says, “Huawei is a 100 per cent privately held global company owned entirely by its employees and has no link with the Chinese government.” This is a statement the US government takes with rather more than a pinch of salt - as should we in Britain. If there's no such thing as a free lunch, it's certainly unlikely there'll be a free mobile comms network either.
Oh, and by the way, Londoners are being "advised" by the government not to use public transport in the run up to or during the Olympics to ensure that the Tube and buses will not be overcrowded and visitors will have "a good travel experience". It's just that we won't be able to get to work.
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