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

Monday, June 8th, 2015 (4:19 pm) - Score 2,156

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