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Gigaclear’s FTTP Broadband Delays Spread to Northamptonshire

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 2,695
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Alternative rural UK ISP Gigaclear is still reeling from the embarrassment of having to make a public apology for the “significant” delays to their roll-out of “full fibre” (FTTP) ultrafast broadband in Devon and Somerset (here). Now they’ve also had to do the same for Northamptonshire.

Last week’s announcement noted that the delays had emerged because “fundamental issues existed including management of subcontractors, build methodology and capacity within the team” (e.g. it’s been difficult to find enough skilled engineers, which is a general industry issue that we’ve highlighted a few times before).

At the time the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) noted that Gigaclear was experiencing “delivery challenges in a number of other areas, however none of the other areas are subject to the delays which the CDS programme has experienced.” We’ve yet to see the new plan for CDS and so it’s a little hard to judge, but some people in other areas are now saying that the delays could be just as bad elsewhere.

Since last week’s update various complaints have reached our inbox and most of those tend to focus on delays in parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire (they have a £90m deal with Complete Utilities to reach 70,000 premises in those two), which we covered on Thursday (here). However locals in Northamptonshire have since suggested that the delays they’re seeing may be even worse.

The Northamptonshire Project

So far Gigaclear has won two contracts with the County Council to deliver part of Stage 3 under the Superfast Northamptonshire project. Both were signed in January 2017 (here) and according to the scheme’s website they currently aim to provide broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps to over 6,336 premises by the end of March 2019 (the original Jan 2017 announcement pegged completion even earlier, at December 2018).

A total of £6.58m of public money is being invested in Stage 3 (£4.9m from the county council and £1.68m the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme), while Gigaclear will be investing £3.65m. We should point out that the operator also has a big commercial deployment on-going in the area, which should take their total coverage to around 25,000 premises.

Fast forward a little bit and in November 2017 Gigaclear signed a new deal with civil engineering company the John Henry Group to help them deliver on 21,000 of the planned premises. Unfortunately since then the progress has been flaky, as illustrated by this useful comparison of how Gigaclear’s LOT 2 roll-out plan (live plan) has changed from February 2018 to October 2018 (Credit to Jason for helping us with this).

Gigaclear Northamptonshire Broadband Delays

A lot of areas now appear to be suffering from delays and these seem to range from around 3-6 months to the dizzy heights of c.21 months. For example, at the start of this year building was supposed to complete in Chacomb by Q3 2018 but it will not now complete until Q2 2020 and some locals fear further delays. As one of those affected residents told us (Jason), “I have no confidence work will start as planned.”

Interestingly we took a long look at various council meeting documents between June and October 2018 but none of them, including those that were intended to deliver an update on the Superfast Northamptonshire project, alluded to any clear delays (note: this won’t cover Gigaclear’s commercial deployments).

Mind you this recent cabinet update did note a £1.6m reduction in forecast expenditure on Superfast Broadband, which occurred because “suppliers have revised milestone dates targets resulting in payments slipping into 2019-20” (Gigaclear isn’t mentioned in the context, so it could just as easily apply to Openreach). Thankfully Gigaclear has been kind enough to furnish us with a statement.

Mike Surrey, CEO Gigaclear, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Gigaclear has worked collaboratively with Northamptonshire County Council on the Stage 3 programme to bring full fibre, high speed broadband to rural Northamptonshire and significant progress has been made to date. However, due to a supplier unfortunately pulling out of the project, some communities have experienced a delay whilst a new contractor was appointed.

We are now working hard on the delivery of a revised deployment plan which will be submitted to Northamptonshire County Council in November to ensure the rollout programme is accelerated and delivered against the new schedule. We will be increasing resources across the region as part of this revised plan.

We would like to extend our apologies for this delay and to reassure residents that we are committed to delivering fast broadband services as part of the Superfast Northamptonshire project.”

As usual we should stress that delays with major broadband projects do happen and with different operators too (we’ve reported on plenty of problems with Openreach and Virgin Media etc. in the past), particularly so when it involves the heavy civil engineering required for deploying Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology. Never let it be said that doing “full fibre” is easy or cheap.

Meanwhile it seems that one of Gigaclear’s biggest challenges has stemmed from having to rapidly scale-up their FTTP deployments in a market where many other operators are trying to do the same thing. On top of that there’s already a shortage of skilled telecoms engineers, which adds a further complication.

Hopefully going forward the ISP will be able to keep to their revised dates, once published. One positive aspect is that they do appear to have enough financial backing to carry their various contracts through to completion and all credit to them for apologising.

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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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15 Responses
  1. 5G Infinity

    Sounds like they need a Construction person on the Board along with the telecom guys to direct what needs to happen and when. Construction have a much different [and blunter] short term view of “getting things done on time”

  2. Dave

    I live in Gloucestershire deep in the heart of the cotswolds. Been with gigaclear and their VOiP partner vonage for about 3 weeks. The only delay was connecting my house and activating my service which ultimately was 2 weeks.
    Given the size of the operation that is being undertaken and the amount of subcontractors that are involved i had no complaints. Especially with how many other companies have longer delays. Just glad to finally have an upto speed connection

  3. brian

    Should think thereselves lucky my roads FTTC was delayed for 3 years and given 8 different dates.

    • Fastman

      that was a commercial cab proably because someone objected ,.. this is BDUK money and is a completely different kettle of fish . late deployed on BDUk and not hitting milestone means you don’t get paid !!!!!

    • gerarda

      Fastman

      Plenty of BDUK cabs were delayed/altered/removed from the programme especially during phase 1 when Openreach had plenty of other low hanging fruit to choose if something started to look too expensive or difficult.

      Not so easy now contracts are specified at detailed postcode or DP level

    • brian

      “…proably because someone objected”

      Quite the opposite in fact. The cabinet for FTTC (IE new cabinet) was installed years before and serving other premises long before our road was connected. Our road when it came to the original telephone cabinet it used was opposite (other side of the road) to the new FTTC and the problem in connecting us up laid between the old and new cabinet/distribution point (also next to the new cabinet). That is as much of an explanation BT would give and only gave that once questions started being asked. BT refused to comment beyond that, although from their response it sounded as if they were blaming something under the road to the new cabinet.

      It was only when a couple of local rags, various complaints and our MP got involved that suddenly 6 months later it was finally done. What the EXACT problem was nobody still knows. It certainly was not duct under the road related as was implied by BT because no work to the road was done or needed.

      BT turned up one day at the new cabinet, were gone by the end of that same day and 2 days after that the status for ordering went live. So whatever the issue it was not particularly serious, so nobody is any the wiser why we waited 3 years.

      My only guess is the cabinet needed another line card to serve more premises and initially they did not want to install one or for 3 years did not have one available. Whatever the case it was nobody complaining or anybody else at fault except BT.

      My road is not unique either i have seen and heard of other examples in my town. Though you defending them by trying to blame others tells me all i need to know about you.

  4. RupertP

    I live in South Northamptonshire and Gigaclear are building their network both in our area (Charlton (East Midlands)) and on our land, including connecting all of the properties on our land and in the immediate surrounding area as part of the Superfast Northamptonshire project – I live on a farm and we have a number of let residential properties. I’ve been in regular contact with both staff from Gigaclear and their contractors here.

    In our area, construction started about 12 months ago (Autumn 2017) and the installation work was undertaken by Trenchcut Ltd – Our area was one of those NOT awarded to John Henry group, presumably because construction had already started before John Henry was appointed, as our cabinet is in an area immediately adjacent to an existing live Gigaclear area that was built a few years ago (Aynho and Croughton).

    12 months after starting construction, our local fibre cabinet is only partially up and running – Some properties are live, but installation works for most are only partially complete and are not yet live. For most of the last 12 months, the contractor has not been working on site and this is the primary reason that the construction work has not been completed already. In our area, there was a burst of work done in Autumn last year, then nothing during most of the winter months, then a burst in early Summer and very little since then.

    In July 2018, I was informed that Trenchcut had been “let go” and that a new contractor, Bethmar Ltd had been appointed to take over the work. Local gossip is that Trenchcut were let go because they were focussed on doing the easy work with the maximum payments (long runs along the side of the road that they could put in with a mole plough in 1 day) and not the more fiddly difficult work (connection pots in the village requiring tarmac re-instatement). Evidence on the ground does indeed show a lot of partially completed work where runs of cable have been put in, but not joined up.

    There was a delay of at least 6 weeks before the new contractor (Bethmar) could take-over as Trench Cut appeared to be required to remediate some bits of the work they had already completed that presumably had not been done to a satisfactory standard.

    Work finally started on our own land with the new contractor, Bethmar Ltd, just 5 weeks ago. For the first week, excellent progress was made – 900 metres of cable was installed in 5 days and the contractor was on-site and working every day. Then, for the last 4 weeks, the contractors have only been on site for 3 days and only 230 metres of cable has been installed. I spoke to the contractor who told me that they were pulled off to work elsewhere in South Northants as Gigaclear had put in place permits with the council and work had to be completed on these areas whilst they were still within the permit issued by the council.

    I was in touch with both the contractor and Gigaclear yesterday. They are both promising that they will be doing more work on our land this coming week, but how much remains to be seen. I have seen first hand that Gigaclear are suffering from a severe shortage of construction crews to actually complete the work – This seems to me to be the primary reason why they are getting behind schedule. The contractors themselves tell me that they believe they will be busy for at least the next 5 years installing fibre networks!

    Gigaclear do also have a serious issue with the bridge over Farthinghoe stream on the A422 between Brackley and Banbury which was suddenly and unexpectedly closed in the summer because it is was found to be unsafe during a routine inspection. They are having to find an alternative route for their cable that avoids the bridge and this obviously takes time and affects the connectivity to properties and cabinets north of this area.

    There is no doubt that the task Gigaclear have taken on is huge and they are definitely suffering from a lack of available construction resources. So, no doubt the work will be late, but the resulting connectivity should be second to none once it is complete.

    • CarlT

      This is the problem when you have a bunch of companies vying for resources. The bigger players have helped themselves to the usual suspects leaving smaller players to have to find alternatives.

    • A_Builder

      @RupertP

      I wouldn’t be too surprised at any contractor trying to get the biggest claim they can in early. That is the fault of the way the Contract was let. It sounds like they were paid per linear meter dug flat rate and therefore went after the easy meters first.

      But that is the behaviour I would expect it to be in the industry the Contractors QS will want to get the highest valuations per time/cost spent and also to bank as much of the profit as they can before the snagging process engages.

      I spend a large part of each day trying think through the chess game that are cost claims so that a fair and equitable solution occurs that motivates people to get the job done.

      The wrinkle here is that if all the easy meters have been done then there might not be enough in the pot to do the difficult meters.

      @CarlT

      As I posted on another thread smaller subbies may prefer to work for smaller outfits where the process is more transparent and they can talk to named decision makers. Also payment cycles, little fast and often works best, can be more attractive than 90+ days.

    • TomD

      We have had massive delays with Gigaclear here in NW Essex but they’ve finally got going with a good contractor – Europoll Utility – and have laid a lot of (fiddly) cable quickly. Main worry here is what happens after April next year when our hard-working Romanians may choose not to Remain.

    • A_Builder

      @TomD

      I think there will be whole sections of the economy that will be in trouble without our hard working Eastern European friends.

      I run a large groundworks operation amongst many other things. Anything labour intensive and low to middle skilled isn’t done by Brits any more and even if I wanted to hire Brits to fill the jobs we currently have I physically couldn’t do it as not enough of them apply, which says something of itself.

  5. B

    I bought a new house built this year and only found out after that it only has copper wire connectivity, though openrreach say its just a month away from getting fibre, the site has been developing since 2014 which is a long time to not have fibre put in.

    • Meadmodj

      This topic related to Gigaclear implementations. Unusual for retrospective provision on a new build unless covered by a new rollout/initiative. New houses of this age without FTTP likely to be down to developer awareness or choices. OR provided copper on telephony obligation.

    • Fastman

      SO which site is this not sure what this has to do with Gigaclear though

    • Fastman

      assuming your developer only asked for Telephony (Copper)voice that what he will have been paid to have put In

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