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UPD 1Gbps FTTP Broadband Coming to 6,495 Premises in Gloucestershire UK

Monday, June 8th, 2015 (4:19 pm) - Score 2,055
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The national UK telecoms operator BT appears to have lost out after rival pure fibre optic ISP Gigaclear signed a major new £10 million contract to deploy their “ultra fast” 1000Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology to 6,495 homes and businesses in Gloucestershire (England).

At present the existing £56.6m Fastershire project is already working with BT to make “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services available to around 90% of premises in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire by the end of 2016 (i.e. 148,000 premises are set to benefit, with 54,608 already completed).

Since then the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme has also allocated an additional £10,980,000 to the two counties under their Phase 2 Superfast Extension Programme (SEP), which aims to push fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds out to 95% of the UK by 2017. It had been assumed that BT would pick-up this contract too, but that hasn’t happened.

Instead it was BT’s increasingly well established and pure fibre optic focused rival, Gigaclear, that won the phase two deal (at least for the Gloucestershire side) and will thus be putting their 1000Mbps capable FTTP technology within reach of 6,495 premises around locations including Guiting Power, Chedworth, Whelford, Bibury and Icomb (i.e. communities in the Cotswolds).

Mark Hawthorne, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said:

Fastershire was the first national broadband project to develop a plan for reaching the final 10 per cent of homes and businesses with faster broadband. Fastershire phase two will enable us to provide faster broadband to some of the county’s most difficult and isolated areas. We look forward to the opportunities that the improved broadband speeds will bring to the Cotswolds.”

In terms of the funding split, some £3 million will come from Fastershire’s Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) and by comparison Gigaclear has stumped up £7 million of private investment (clearly they REALLY wanted this contract); this works out as around £1,540 per property.

But confusingly the press release then also states that “a total of £5.46m for the SEP has been provided by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) department and matched by Gloucestershire County Council“, which seems to conflict with the £3m figure given above and the £10m total in their headline.

Matthew Hare, CEO of Gigaclear, said:

Residents and businesses in the Cotswolds want great broadband. We are convinced that as in other rural areas that we already serve, the demand for the pure fibre, ultrafast broadband service that Gigaclear delivers will be substantial.

What was refreshing about this tender was the identification of the specific addresses of the 6,495 properties that the contract sought to serve. This clarity gave us the confidence to offer our Gigabit fibre broadband service to every single property in the tender.”

The development makes Gloucestershire one of the few counties to have signed a phase 2 superfast broadband roll-out deal with somebody other than BT, with Swindon and West Oxfordshire both also taking the non-BT path towards deployment.

Naturally we were keen to get BT’s viewpoint on this and a spokeswoman informed ISPreview.co.uk that they simply “decided not to bid for ‘Lot 1’“, but sadly it’s not clear why.

A BT Spokeswoman added:

We have already made high-speed fibre broadband available to around 60000 homes and businesses in the region, and thousands more are set to benefit over the coming months.

We believe that BT’s proven technology, open access network with wide choice of service providers, and ability to deliver large projects offer many unique benefits to local authorities.”

At present there’s a growing fear in some quarters that BT might not be committing as much investment as it could to the national BDUK scheme, although the projects overall progress remains strong.

On the flip side the BDUK contracts with BT tend to be dominated by the operators slower up to 80Mbps FTTC technology, while Gigaclear’s FTTP can deliver 1000Mbps. One downside is that Gigaclear’s FTTP network isn’t open access (i.e. no Sky or TalkTalk etc.), but competition does still exist between the two at infrastructure level.

UPDATE 9th June 2015

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The political knives have come out for the deal after local LibDem Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) criticised the development (here).

Paul Hodgkinson said:

I’ve asked for a detailed list of the 6,000 properties which are included in this scheme. It means that quite a lot of people will still miss out on what is now an essential service in the 21st century.

I was in Greece recently where even in the remotest areas there was a 4G phone signal and fast broadband – if they can do it so can we. I will continue to fight for every house to get access to a better service.

Communities like the Churn Valley have asked for assurances that they will be included in the scheme but have not had any yet. It’s vital all areas can benefit.”

It should be said that the central Government hasn’t yet set aside funding or a final plan to reach 100% with superfast broadband. On top of that quite a few remote parts of Greece still struggle to deliver even basic broadband services via ADSL, so take the above comments with a pinch of the usual political comment salt.

Meanwhile the former Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood also criticised the contract for connecting up rural areas and ignoring the slow spots in urban areas like Cheltenham. Once again a quick reality check is needed because EU rules presently prevent state aid being used to build new broadband infrastructure in urban areas, where private investment should find it easier to upgrade.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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19 Responses
  1. TheManStan

    More weird wording on the press release, is “up to £7M” from Gigaclear, which suggests they are also in the position of not committing to spending out the money if they achieve targets at a lower cost.

  2. Craski

    I wish some of the AltNets like Gigaclear would expand their activities into Scotland. There are loads of underserved areas where people would love to see an alternative to BT whom have been ignoring us for years.

    • TheManStan

      @Craski

      Gigaclear target what are Rural Wealthy areas, but where there are concentrations of people closeish to infrastructure. They also have a very healthy business plan where it’s not just interest they obtain, but names on dotted lines committing to buy.

      Scotland has the issue that infrastructure can be quite far away and that makes it a very different scenario for provision.

    • Craski

      @TheManStan

      It would be interesting to know the take-up rate that the economics of these alt nets are based on in comparison to BT/BDUK.

      From what I’ve read so far, BDUK seems to need to hit 20% uptake to satisfy some of their EU funding obligations and many FTTC rollouts are starting to hit that number but because BT have concentrated initial phases of roll out on doing the easiest parts first (towns etc) which perhaps already had ADSL broadband at a tolerable speed, that take-up has been slow but surely when/if they finally manage to get superfast speeds into areas that are poorly served by ADSL then take-up will be very quick. In my area, from chatting to locals, most (>50%) would order it as soon as it became available and they would be willing to sign up to it prior to it being available if that sped up the availability / roll out process.

  3. New_Londoner

    @MarkJ
    Presumably Gigaclear will have to open up its network to receive the state aid? And not just theoretical wholesale access, which it has been promising as “coming in a few months” for several years, but with real options including some that meet the maximum price criteria. Otherwise I don’t believe the counties will be able to pay it.

    • Agreed. The tender will be for a wholesale solution, so the network will have to be open from day one – at least theoretically if not in practice. Be interesting to see if/how/when they get some meaningful retail ISPs on board.

  4. Jonas

    Buying a contract (which Gigaclear appear to have done by providing the gap funding) is high risk but also demonstrates the ALTNETS have critical role to play in both the rural and urban role out.
    CityFibre have a similar model but rely heavily on the LA being an anchor customer ( which I suspects impacts PSN) ITS are another company providing gap project funding and have seen good growth over the past few years.
    There must be some consolidation in the ALTNET space as if there was a consolidated and larger ALTNET could really give BT and others a run for their money and disrupt the market.

  5. gerarda

    Nice to see the Openreach monopoly being broken and another choice being offered.

    • X66yh

      Well in some respects all that is actually happening is that the BTOR monopoly in the area is being replaced by a Gigaclear monopoly for superfastBB.

    • MikeW

      Indeed – as far as superfast+ speeds go, the entire “raison d’être” of BDUK is to establish localised monopolies.

      Of course, it is being done under the belief that a state-funded monopoly is better than a nonopoly.

      If, as a resident of the area, you’re happy with the level of the existing service, then the new service does indeed become a choice.

    • fastman

      so choice is circa £200 per connection (unless you DIY the fibre across your groupd), get your village dug up in the process and no choice of provider ad neteworkj is not open as no equivalence management platform

    • gerarda

      You have no choice of provider under the other BDUK schemes. You get what Openreach choose to provide.

    • TheFacts

      Like from 50 ISPs.

    • gerarda

      None of those ISPs can do anything to improve the 1.8mpbs “superfast” service Openreach provide.

      Its the equivalent of being able to go to 50 car showrooms but your only choice of car is a Ford Model T in black

    • GNewton

      @gerarda: In many areas regional telecom monopolies, especially for fibre broadband, or the much slower VDSL broadband, are unavoidable. What’s needed are proper regulation (Ofcom has proven to be a failure in this), and a harmonization of the different networks to make it easier for service providers (e.g. ISPs) to offer products across these different networks. Digging up roads multiple times to install ducts for each different telecom company doesn’t make much sense. Should ducts even be owned by telecoms at all? They can own fibre, but couldn’t ducts be made open access? You don’t run multiple power lines or multiple water pipes into the premises either, do you?

    • GNewton

      @TheFacts: “Like from 50 ISPs.”

      You of course only know too well that this is not a real choice as long as the underlying last mile access network used by these ISPs isn’t up-to-date.

      How about you come up with some ideas or proposals on how to sort out the broadband mess in the UK? Posters have answered so many of your questions in recent months, you should now be quite informed on what can be done, and how!

    • FibreFred

      Same old same old from gnewton, pie in the sky no substance

  6. MikeW

    Some confusion there as to the finances.

    From what I can make out, Fastershire’s “plan for 100%” includes a phase 3 (which is the extension of BT’s contract), and a phase 4 (deliberately focussed at non-BT) which is broken into 3 lots.

    The story appears to be about lot 1 of phase 4, while lots 2 and 3 aren’t due to start procurement until 2016, after the existing BT rollout has finished in those 2 areas.

    In that plan (dated 2014), lot 1 was means to be around 4,000 properties while lots 2 and 3 were around 1,500 and 1,000 properties IIRC. The plan also indicated maximum subsidies of £1.7m, £2m and £2m respectively.

    Still, it’s nice to see Gigaclear win a contract, even if it was gift-wrapped on a plate for them.

    BTW – I think Mark Hawthorne’s comment might make for some bad PR in the future. By juxtaposing the comment about the plan for 100% coverage alongside the “phase 2” comment, he makes it sound like *this* contract reaches 100%. That’s going to make for more unhappy punters in Gloucestershire & Herefordshire when they realise this isn’t true … The 6,000 they’re now aiming at is only around 1.5% of the premises in the two counties.

    • MikeW

      Lo and behold, two erstwhile political operators complain about just that … that the project still doesn’t target 100%.

      Do any of them ever bother with details?

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