The competition between two “flash boy” financial trading firms over plans to build communications masts higher than the Shard, in rural Kent, has intensified.
New Line Networks (NLN) and Vigilant Global – high-frequency trading firms that use super-fast infrastructure to make trades in the blink of an eye – want to build masts within a few miles of each other in Richborough.
The masts would allow them to beam microwave signals across the Channel, transmitting signals to and from European markets a fraction of a second quicker than rivals.
But Vigilant’s plan could be slowed dramatically after NLN – owned by Jump Trading and KCG Holdings – filed an objection to its planning application.
In a submission to Dover council, NLN said Vigilant should show that its plans would not affect a nearby railway route and that the impact on overhead power lines had not been properly considered.
NLN also raised concerns about the position of blocks used to keep the mast in place and the location of access roads during the construction phase.
It said its submission to the council was designed to ensure “the consideration of each proposal is against a background of rigorous, comprehensive and robust evidence”.
“We would suggest that determination of the planning application should not take place until the information has been made available and has been subject to appropriate consultation.”
Vigilant is further ahead with its mast as it has already submitted a planning application, whereas NLN has only got as far as publishing a “scoping assessment”.
Securing a delay to Vigilant’s planning process would help NLN catch up, as the two firms slug it out to get their mast up first.
Eric Bellerive, the director of global networks at Vigilant, said: “We are working with Dover district council, as the determining local authority, to respond to feedback from all parties following submission of the planning application and the public engagement programme.
“As part of this process we are finalising a number of proposed public benefits, including a community trust to be funded annually by mast revenue and managed by the local community.
“We recognise the benefits of working in partnership with other users, including financial firms, to deliver this important infrastructure, and have been actively engaged with other firms in our industry throughout the planning process, including discussions with New Line Networks regarding shared access to the proposed mast.”
The battle illustrates the lengths to which high-frequency traders are willing to go to secure a couple of milliseconds advantage over rivals.
The focus on speed earned the industry the nickname “flash boys”, after the Michael Lewis book. It details how a company called Spread Networks dug an 827-mile trench under mountains and across rivers from Chicago to New Jersey – at a cost of $300m.
The result was an ultra-latency line that reduced the time taken to transmit data from one end to the other from 17 milliseconds to 13 milliseconds.
Both Vigilant and NLN say the masts, both of which would be higher than the Shard at more than 1,000ft, will also improve local internet and mobile phone reception.
But people living in the area are sceptical about the prospect of giant masts being erected, close to the site where the Roman conquest of Britain began in AD43.
NLN is due to give a public presentation about its plans on 4 April at Ash village hall.
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