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Who is Building – UK Summary of Full Fibre Broadband Plans and Investment UPDATE18

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 46,389
fibre optic cable connector illustration broadband

The history of Cityfibre makes it difficult to pin down how much investment is involved with their past, present and future ventures, although they did recently raise another £201.8 million from the private sector (here). This is on top of the £180m raised 2-3 years ago (here) and at that point they had attracted an overall total of c.£250m; a big chunk of this was used to acquire KCOM’s UK fibre assets (excluding Hull).

The company itself is valued at under £400m and it’s widely expected that the first 1 million premises in their project with Vodafone will cost around £500m to achieve (Cityfibre says they’ve got enough investment for this). So far Cityfibre has confirmed that Milton Keynes (£40m), Aberdeen (£40m) and Peterborough (£30m+) will be among the first to benefit.

UPDATE 24th October 2018:

Cityfibre’s backers have agreed to establish a new £2.5bn fund, which will be used to help them deploy FTTH/P to cover 5 million premises in 37 UK cities and towns by the end of 2024 (details).

* TalkTalk / FibreNation

We’ve already touched on TalkTalk once above, which reflects their joint deployment with Cityfibre in York. Since then the ISP has also announced the creation of a separate company with the infrastructure equity investment arm of M&G Prudential, InfraCapital (here).

Under this deal TalkTalk and InfraCapital will aim to provide 1Gbps ultrafast FTTH/P broadband to more than 3 million premises in mid-sized UK towns and cities. The new company would be 20% owned by TalkTalk and 80% by Infracapital, which is expected to involve a potential equity investment of up to £500m (enabling total investment of c.£1.5bn); InfraCapital contributing £400m and TalkTalk £100m.

At present the details are somewhat thin on the ground but TalkTalk said they would be a “founding wholesale customer of the new company, providing a minimum volume commitment” (i.e. the anchor tenant), which suggests that other operators may eventually become involved.

The proposed investment is currently very tentative and the fact that the new company will also take on c.£1bn in debt could make some people nervous, although nobody ever said that building new “full fibre” networks was easy, quick or cheap. At the time of writing no roll-out plan or completion dates have been confirmed and an as yet unnamed new company is also due to be setup around the venture.

UPDATE 22nd November 2018

TalkTalk’s deal with Infracapital appears to have stalled due to a dispute over the valuation for their FTTH deployment in York (here). In the meantime the ISP has said they will continue hunting for a partner to support their Fibre Nation project, which despite the setback will now initially aim to reach 60,000 premises in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon over the next 12-18 months.

* Gigaclear

Not many 1Gbps capable FTTH providers would build their network with the intention of targeting expensive rural areas but that’s precisely what Gigaclear have done. After starting small the operator has grown significantly by managing to attract a lot of private investment. As a result their “full fibre” network can now reach around c.65,000 premises across 22 counties in England.

In May 2017 the operator also posted their latest financial results to the end of 2016, which revealed that they had net assets of £50.1 million, cash of £20.8 million and property, plant and equipment worth £53.2 million. At about the same time they also secured £111m of additional private investment (here) and have since won a number of the Government’s state aid supported Broadband Delivery UK contracts.

The providers progress has not gone unnoticed and earlier this year the M&G Investment Management fund made its move to purchase the ISP for £270 million (here), which was backed by the provider’s largest shareholder Infracapital (43.2% holding). The latter is also supporting TalkTalk’s £3bn plan to make FTTP/H available to 3 million UK premises (here).

Going forward Gigaclear’s ambition is to reach 350,000 premises in rural areas (mostly England) by the end of 2021, then possibly 500,000 by 2022 and they seem likely to go much further in the future. However they did suffer some big deployment delays in 2018/19 due to resource and management problems, which could impact this (here).

* Truespeed Communications

Truespeed are a fairly young provider and have only recently entered the market by starting to deploy a new FTTH/P network into rural parts of South West England (e.g. South East Somerset). Despite this they recently sprang a surprise by successfully attracting a huge investment of £75 million from Aviva Investors to help expand their network (here).

The operator indicates that, over the next few years, it has an aspiration to reach 75,000 premises in the region by 2021 and this is likely to attract some extra support from the Government’s new investment initiatives.On top of that they believe that it could be possible to cover 200,000 premises by 2025.

Suffice to say that most people may not have heard about Truespeed today, but tomorrow could be a different story, provided you live in the South West.

* Community Fibre

London is already home to a number of FTTH providers, such as Hyperoptic, and now we can added Community Fibre to that list. The operator is currently rolling out their FTTH network to 150,000 council homes across the boroughs of Southwark (54,000), Wandsworth (35,000), Hammersmith and Fulham (17,000), Westminster (9,000), Genesis Housing (33,000), Richmond (9,000) and the City of London (2,800).

As part of that they recently secured £11.3 million of private equity investment from RPMI Railpen and existing shareholders (here), which should help to get them started on their long-term aspiration to cover 500,000 premises in the city by 2022. Over the shorter term Community Fibre hopes to complete the build of around 50,000+ properties across London by the end of 2018.

UPDATE 23rd April 2018: CF has just secured another £25m, with £18m coming from the UK government supported National Digital Infrastructure Fund (NDIF) and a further £7m being provided via existing investor Railpen (here).

UPDATE 24th October 2018: CF have said they’re working toward an aspiration of covering more than 1 million UK premises with 10Gbps capable broadband by 2025 (or 2024).

UPDATE 16th July 2019: CF have raised an additional £50m (total investment now £90m) from RPMI and Amber Infrastructure (here) and are “on track” with their plans to pass 500,000 premises (currently 70,000 premises passed and aiming for 100,000 by the end of 2019).

* KCOM

KCOM are the incumbent operator for Hull in the East Riding area of Yorkshire and for the past few years their £85 million “Lightstream” project has predominantly been deploying a 1Gbps capable FTTP broadband network to local homes and businesses. At the end of 2017 they had managed to reach c.150,000 premises and that leaves about 25% of their network left to complete.

At this rate KCOM will probably be one of the first incumbent UK operators to switch off their old copper line network and move entirely to FTTP (here). We expect the operator to continue rolling out their FTTP network (this also features a small amount of slower FTTC) until they have covered their entire network (c.200,000 premises) by March 2019 (here).

On completion the final network will reflect 96% coverage of FTTP “full fibre“, while the remaining 4% will be on slower FTTC.

* WightFibre

On the Isle of Wight (South Coast of Hampshire, England) you don’t get a lot of choice when it comes to alternative network providers, although Wight Fibre has been offering a 152Mbps capable Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) cable network like Virgin Media’s for several years.

However this is about to change because the provider has unveiled a £35m plan to deploy a new “full fibre” (FTTH) ultrafast broadband network to cover 53,000 of the 61,000 homes on the island by the end of 2022 (here), which has now begun (here). Speeds of up to 1Gbps are expect and the new network should provide strong competition for Openreach’s slower FTTC service.

* Open Fibre Networks Ltd. (GTC / Brookfield Utilities UK Group)

Most people probably haven’t heard of OFNL (formerly IFNL), which is despite the fact that they’ve been around since 2008. One of the reasons for that is because they tend to focus on connecting new build home developments and usually supply their services via partner ISPs (e.g. Seethelight, VFast, Direct Save Telecom, Love Your Broadband and Pure Broadband).

Unfortunately it’s very difficult to extract any solid information about investment and coverage from the team behind OFNL, although we believe that they have several tens of thousands of premises passed (anything from 20,000 to 40,000). Customers can generally order broadband speeds of up to 300Mbps over this network, although the capability to reach Gigabit speeds does exist.

* B4RN

Granted B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) are a significantly smaller project than those mentioned above, but we’re including them here because of their rapid growth and unique community deployment model. The provider’s 1Gbps FTTH network is special because it has been constructed with the help of tireless volunteers from local communities across their patch, which is often done in exchange for shares instead of cash.

B4RN’s community focused deployment also encourages a high level of take-up (averaging around 60-70%) and this has seen their network expand from Lancashire and into parts of Cumbria, Yorkshire, Suffolk and Norfolk (covering approx. 2000Km2). Back in Nov 2017 they had around 3,800 premises connected to their network and are achieving approximately 150 connections a month, with a forecast to reach over 5,000 by summer 2018.

The company is almost entirely community funded with c.1,700 shareholders now holding a total of £4.5 million in shares with an additional £2.5 million+ loaned to the company from the community (build costs average about £700/property). We can’t easily give a premises passed total for B4RN as their deployment model is too dynamic and conducted on-request from locals.

* WarwickNet

Admittedly WarwickNet (CableCom) are more of a business provider and so don’t quite fit in with the more consumer focused deployments that we’ve touched on above. Instead they’ve tended to focus on providing their own ultrafast broadband network to SMEs located in 400 business and science parks, which are often situated a distance away from urban towns / cities and have been historically neglected by other providers.

Nevertheless the ISP has so far deployed the FTTP side of their network to cover 50,000 UK premises via a total of over 1,400km worth of fibre optic cable, mostly around Coventry and Warwickshire. The provider’s medium-term aspiration is to reach 200,000 premises by the end of 2020. Sadly we don’t have any details on their investment levels.

* Trooli (Call Flow Solutions)

Perhaps one of the youngest ISPs on this list is Trooli, which was established in June 2018 by the more familiar company of Call Flow Solutions (here). We don’t currently have any solid details about their private investment levels but they’ve already started deploying a new Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based ultrafast broadband network to homes and businesses in parts of rural Kent (England).

The commercial and rural focus puts them in a similar category to TrueSpeed and Gigaclear, since very few commercial “full fibre” providers have dared to tackle the economic challenge of catering for rural areas. At present Trooli has completed deployments to two rural towns (5,000 premises+) including Paddock Wood and King’s Hill (West Malling).

Enough investment has also been secured to reach a further 10 towns over the next 12 months (by mid-2019), which the provider predicts will expand their coverage by a further 26,000 premises (they’ll also double their headcount over the same period). Locals can access speeds of up to 1000Mbps and the network is also one of the first in the UK to harness ADTRAN’s 10Gbps FTTP equipment (XGSPON).

UPDATE 5th June 2019

Trooli has secured funding of around £26.6m (€30m) from European investors and are now aiming to reach 500,000 premises by around the end of 2024 (here).

* County Broadband

The chances are good that you won’t have heard about County Broadband before, which is partly because until recently they only deployed fixed wireless broadband services to rural communities in isolated parts of Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire (England). But last year they piloted a new 1Gbps FTTH network in the village of Broughton (here) and they’ve recently secured £46m from Aviva Investors to go even further (here).

At this stage the details are very limited, although the plan appears to involve expanding their new “full fibre” network to help reach 30,000 premises across poorly served parts in the East of England.

* G.Networks

A new ISP called G.Networks has sprung up over the past two years and they’re already aiming to reach 120,000 premises (residents and businesses) in London with a 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network (details here).

The provider has initially attracted £4.6m of private investment from Albion Capital in 2017 and toward the end of 2018 they gained a big boost after Cube Infrastructure Managers (Cube IM) agreed to put £60m into the project. The provider’s first roll-out is expected to focus on Westminster and the City of London areas.

* toob

This is a new Portsmouth-based ISP called toob, which has been established by several of Vodafone’s former directors and plans to roll-out a 900Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband network to 100,000 premises by the end of 2021 (here). On top of that they have an ambition to reach 1 million UK premises within the next 10 years.

One other thing that makes toob different is that they’ve already managed to secure an investment of £75m from the Amber Infrastructure backed National Digital Infrastructure Fund (here), which is surprising given that at the time of writing they’ve yet to lay any optical fibre. Nevertheless they hope to have their first customers connected by the end of 2019 and Southampton will be the first to benefit (here).

* Zzoomm

The former CEO of Gigaclear, Matthew Hare, has invested £1m of his own money to establish a new ISP called Zzoomm that aspires to cover 1 million homes with 10Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology by the end of 2024 (here). However they’ll need hundreds of millions of pounds to deliver on that and are still in the process of securing investment partners.

The ISP intends to target the more commercially viable and lucrative urban areas, specifically smaller cities (e.g. Hastings, Amersham, Weymouth and Huntingdon) and the suburbs of larger cities (e.g. London and Birmingham).

* Exascale

A new 1Gbps full fibre network is being built by Exascale in Telford (Shropshire), which is expected to cover several thousand premises and make use of Openreach’s existing cable ducts and telegraph poles (here).

NOTE: The above list isn’t exhaustive and there are other ISPs (Wessex Internet, Jurassic Fibre, Fibrus, Grain, VXFIBRE, F&W Networks, BitStreme, County Broadband, Telcom and Optic Networks etc.) where we don’t yet have enough information about their premises passed, future plans or investment total to include.

Conclusion

Last year the Government set a target to achieve 10 million premises passed with “full fibre” (FTTH/P) by the end of 2022 and, given recent announcements, this now looks feasible. In May 2018 this was raised to aim for 15 million premises by 2025 (here), with an vague aspiration to “deliver a nationwide full-fibre to the premises network” by 2033 (this will need masses of public funding and may not hold as government’s change).

Much of this coverage will come from the major operators like Openreach and Virgin Media, although it’s clear that alternative network providers, particularly Cityfibre (+partners), Vodafone, TalkTalk and Hyperoptic, are set to make a similarly big impact.

Lest we forget the many other small FTTH/P operators in the market, such as Ask4, Fibre Options, ITS Technology, Relish (Keycom buildings), Vision Fibre Media, Call Flow Solutions, Cybermoor and Grain Connect etc. Sadly we don’t have any concrete data (premises passed, financial investment, coverage targets etc.) for most of those but the majority seem to be growing and could become much more significant in the future.

One downside is that nearly all of this new coverage will be in dense urban areas. The reason for that is because FTTH/P is both hugely expensive and incredibly slow to deploy, thus a universal rollout must be measured over a couple of decades rather than a few short years and needs to fish from a large pool of potential customers. The advantage is that once the network has been installed then it can easily be upgraded in the future to deliver even faster speeds. Maintenance costs will also be lower, assuming incumbent operators are allowed to remove their old copper networks.

Dare we also say that the market for FTTP/H is actually starting to become quite crowded, at least it might be in the future once some of the proposed deployments have grown a bit of serious scale (at present some of the plans still only exist as press releases). On top of that there’s a question mark around the level of potential overbuild between projects and how much the above commitments will actually deliver in terms of overall coverage.

Certainly we’d hope that the ISPs will try to minimise incidents of multiple overlapping fibre optic networks, which could also create an ugly civil engineering situation for locals (i.e. pavements being repeatedly dug up) and might not be the most efficient use of such investment. Suffice to say that we wouldn’t be surprised to see some consolidation in the market once these networks expand.

Crucially what the market really needs right now is a bit of stability, so that private investment and competition are given a chance to grow their networks. If the Government did want to make any further changes then extending the business rates holiday on new fibre for a decade or more, making wayleaves easier to establish and making it easier to identify who owns a big building (harder than it sounds) might not be a bad start.

UPDATE 10th April 2018

Added WarwickNet above.

UPDATE 23rd April 2018

Added new investment for Community Fibre.

UPDATE 11th May 2018

Added a little update to Truespeed’s target.

UPDATE 29th May 2018

Raised Gigaclear’s 2020 coverage ambition to 300,000 premises.

UPDATE 5th June 2018

Added Trooli (Call Flow Solutions) to the list.

UPDATE 14th June 2018

Added the government’s new full fibre target for 15 million premises to our conclusion.

UPDATE 22nd June 2018

Raised Gigaclear’s coverage ambition to 350,000 premises by the end of 2021.

UPDATE 16th July 2018

Added County Broadband above.

UPDATE 13th August 2018

Added the latest investment and deployment figures to Openreach, Virgin Media and Hyperoptic. Also renamed Independent Fibre Networks Ltd. to Open Fibre Networks Ltd.

UPDATE 24th October 2018

Added Cityfibre’s latest £2.5bn investment and roll-out plans. Plus some small updates to WightFibre, Community Fibre and KCOM.

UPDATE 5th November 2018

Added G.Networks.

UPDATE 7th November 2018

Updated Hyperoptic’s progress and investment level.

UPDATE 22nd November 2018

Update on TalkTalk’s plan.

UPDATE 25th March 2019

Added toob and Zzoomm to the summary.

UPDATE 9th May 2019

Updates to Openreach and toob.

UPDATE 5th June 2019

Updates for Trooli.

UPDATE 16th July 2019

Extra £50m for Community Fibre.

UPDATE 1st August 2019

Added Exascale above.

Leave a Comment
29 Responses
  1. Avatar Joe M

    “..high deployment costs..” most likely this is now untrue and if the price says different, then its down to unfair trade practices and illegal overcharging because equipment costs are far below that of ANY other competing technology roll outs.

  2. Avatar TheRealFuzzyDunlop

    While it’s good to hear that there will be a lot more FTTH rolled out over the coming years the haphazard and wasteful way that it will be achieved is symptomatic of how badly this country is governed. There will almost certainly be a lot of overbuild, which for such a resource intensive undertaking, is just bonkers. Simply, OpenReach should be re-nationalised (it should never have been privatised in the first place but we can blame that and much else besides on Thatcher) and they should then be tasked with building out a nationwide FTTH network. Basically OpenReach should be to communication networks what Network Rail is to railways. Build it once and build it well, to every property in the country (or at least every property currently connected to the copper PTSN), and OpenReach then wholesale it to the retail providers. If only Ofcom had a bit of hutzpah they would of made this happen years ago. Competition at retail level makes sense, at network/infrastructure level it’s complete and utter lunacy.

    • Avatar AndyH

      And where does the funding come from for this nationwide FTTH network? Who funds the nationalisation of Openreach?

    • Avatar GNewton

      No need to nationalise Openreach. It could be bypassed, just need the right legal and regulatory framework, e.g. something like was originally done with NBN in Australia before the current coalition government there abandoned it.

      The principal idea of building only one fibre infrastructure is valid, having multiple access networks is quite wasteful. You only got one gas pipe, one electricity line, one water pipe into your premise. Why would need multiple fibre networks?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @GN – How would this brand new single network be funded and what would happen to all the existing networks?

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: Perhaps we can come back to your own funding proposals from 2 years ago?

      It’s a longterm investment which can eventually be sold to shareholders or investors once built. Also, some revenues will come in pretty soon even before the final completion. The taxpayer won’t be burdened in the long term.

      It’s worth considering the question of whether some other wasteful projects like the HS2 are really needed in its current over-expensive form.

      One thing is for sure: The commercial market alone isn’t able to built a widespread fibre network. The competitive fibre infrastructures model as promoted by Ofcom or the government doesn’t work.

    • Avatar AndyH

      @ GNewton

      Whilst people might think HS2 is a waste of money, the current government is committed to this project. They will not cancel it and reallocate funds elsewhere.

      I do believe that BT/Openreach will deploy FTTP to 10 million premises by 2025. There is no chance of it being extended significantly beyond this by any commercial operator without government/public funding.

      In terms of multiple access networks, then this is an inevitability if operators want to build their own networks. Cityfibre/Vodafone’s first deployed area will be Milton Keynes, a city which was part of the original Openreach FTTP trial and has had FTTP for the best part of 9 years now in many areas.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @GN – How would this brand new single network be funded, by the government?

      Ask again – What would happen to all the existing networks?

      Who would manage and maintain this network?

    • Avatar TheRealFuzzyDunlop

      Other existing networks would also need to be bought out / nationalised to become part of the new single network. The money for this and many other infrastructure projects could be found or simply created (print money and invest in infrastructure instead of using it to prop up failing banks) if there was the political will. And what’s more it would pay for itself by creating jobs and economic growth. If there’s any doubt about this ask yourself how the UK rebuilt itself after World War Two and also introduced the NHS, comprehensive education, and the welfare state at a time when the country was effectively bankrupt. It is totally possible to renationalise and create nationwide FTTH network. It would be the quickest, most efficient and cost effective solution. It just requires the political will. But it’ll never happen, of course, because it’s far too bold for the current crop of political leaders. Imagine what the Daily Mail would say!

  3. Avatar Walter G M Willcox

    It is also important to note that the UK requires full symmetric Point-to-Point FTTP/H and not asymmetric shared-fibre solutions deployed in small pockets cobbled on top of the twisted pair network.

    • Avatar AndyH

      And the basis for P2P is? You realise symmetrical broadband can be delivered over PON?

    • Avatar CarlT

      No, it doesn’t. I appreciate B4RN do everything better than everyone, ever, and their approach is the only one that is ever acceptable but there is nothing wrong with PON. There are symmetrical variants that work perfectly well.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Walter
      “It is also important to note that the UK requires full symmetric Point-to-Point FTTP/H”

      Any evidence to back this up?

  4. Avatar Walter G M Willcox

    @ AndyH – So why isn’t it being done that way ?

    • Avatar AndyH

      Because there is no need for it and it would add a noticeable extra cost to broadband bills.

      Over time I’m sure it will come, but for the moment there is no need.

  5. Avatar John

    So there’s activity in infrastructure development. Great. Now what about the domestic consumer experience and choice, or rather lack of it? Of the half-million FTTP/H connections, how many are, or have become, BT customers? I’d guess well over 90% because the other big players aren’t interested in reselling or supporting it.

  6. Avatar Chris C

    As I posted on kitz

    “Well the difference with openreach is they have existing assets in place, so the business case for them is clearly much less favourable than it is for the likes of gigaclear and co.

    I expect if the ASA decided tomorrow that only full fibre services could have fibre in their product wording, then openreach would possibly change their stance over night. The marketing departments have huge influence over expenditure.

    In addition its fairly predictable that if openreach rollout FTTP to any meaningful footprint, it “will” get regulated at some point. Further diminishing the business case.”

  7. Avatar Meadmodj

    Excellent summary MJ. It is clear that these providers are convincing their investors that there is a good ROI in 100% Fibre. Proving that BT could do the same if they had the confidence Ofcom would not interfere. Where the investment is concentrated I assume they will build their own civil’s but in other areas they will seek to use Openreach duct work. I am also assuming that these companies will seek to avoid each others patch at least for the interim. I wonder therefore going forward that if an ISP gains a Fibre monopoly in a certain geographical area will Ofcom step in and obligate them to offer access options to other providers as Openreach are?

    We have been through the pain of installing ugly power hungry cabinets in our streets and this will now be exploited with Gfast. 100% fibre will be more reliable, resilient and cheaper in the long run but any serious failure would be time consuming to recover from. It will be interesting where the future pricing will settle for these competing services. It could be consumers will be content with a guaranteed 100Mbps.

  8. Altnets are attracting investment and gaining scale. INCA will publish a report on Altnet coverage next week (full fibre and wireless) and it is very encouraging. We are at an early stage in the development of new digital infrastructure in the UK and a variety of business models are working well. Ultimately it might make sense to bring the infrastructure providers together under one umbrella, but we think that now is too early in the process. However, greater co-operation between industry players to minimise wasteful overbuild and maximise re-use of existing passive infrastructure makes a lot of sense and should be encouraged.

    • Avatar occasionally factual

      There will be natural consolidation as smaller players run out of cash and get taken over by others.
      Investors will not be patient and keep bailing out firms who find it difficult to get consumers onboard.
      This is a replay of the cable fiasco from the 80s and 90s.

  9. Avatar Avaya

    TalkTalk envisage their 3m FTTP target to be completed over a 3-5 year period.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Sadly I think its all SmallTalk from TalkTalk

    • I’d probably say the same if it wasn’t for the fact that their investment partner now has a serious and well established commitment in the field. A big challenge for TalkTalk will be continuing to keep investment flowing into their mass-market copper based broadband products while also pushing themselves to the limit on FTTH. There’s a lot of debt flowing around and right now they don’t have a lot to weight against it.

  10. Avatar chris conder

    Re overbuild – wherever B4RN go up pops openreach cabinets. They don’t get many customers though. What is becoming very clear is that competition is what is driving progress.
    The cities would probably still be on dial up if it wasn’t for virgin shoving the incumbent.
    Long live the Altnets.

  11. Avatar Amir

    I can’t even get fttc never mind fttp. I’m a stones throw from the city centre of a city.

    I’m forced to use vm for my ultraspeed. I’d rather have the choice of multiple sips but at least I have one. Still I’m bitter there is o Openreach fibre products at all

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