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Gigaclear Founder Creates New UK City FTTP Broadband ISP Zzoomm

Monday, February 25th, 2019 (8:18 am) - Score 6,055
zzoomm

The founder and former CEO of UK rural fibre optic ISP Gigaclear, Matthew Hare, has quietly used £1m of his own money to setup a new broadband provider called Zzoomm, which is an alternative network (altnet) that will focus on building 1Gbps+ Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) networks to homes in smaller cities and suburbs.

Matthew did a reasonably good job of building Gigaclear up over several years into a serious provider (impressive given their focus on bringing “full fibre” to challenging rural areas), at least he did until 2017/18 when the ISP found itself struggling with the difficult challenge of scaling-up their rural focused FTTP roll-out to cope with several significant Government contracts (example).

Gigaclear ended up being purchased by Infracapital (Prudential fund) for £270m (here) and soon after that the scale of their aforementioned FTTP deployment delays became clear (some roll-outs have been set back by as much as two years). This ultimately resulted in the new owner re-shaping the company and replacing its management team, which included Matthew’s departure (here)

Nevertheless Matthew has today confirmed that he is set for a return to the growing market for “full fibre” services and has established a new ISP called Zzoomm. According to Companies House, the London registered business (Zzoomm Group Limited) was incorporated on 19th December 2018 (NOTE: Apparently it’s actual HQ will be setup in Oxford).

Matthew Hare, CEO of Zzoomm, said:

“The full fibre revolution is here, but many are currently left behind. Numerous small towns and suburbs still do not have any plans for full fibre from the network into the properties and are stuck with the pedestrian internet access speeds that is provided by copper wires. Zzoomm is targeting some of these 4.5 million homes which are still blighted by ageing copper infrastructure.”

At present Zzoomm is understood to be in the process of trying to secure “substantial” financial investment from a group of possible backers, but unlike Gigaclear the new 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).

Over the past couple of years a huge amount of investment has been flowing toward “full fibre” altnet providers, which is being supported by various Government tax breaks (business rates holiday), funding initiates and regulatory changes (see the ‘ Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review‘ and ‘Budget 2018 Summary‘).

One obvious problem here is that Zzoom will not be alone in those markets for long. Openreach, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, Community Fibre, Cityfibre (inc. Vodafone), TalkTalk, OFNL (GTC / BUUK) and others all have big plans (see our ‘Summary of Full Fibre Broadband Plans and Investment‘), which should help the Government with their nationwide FTTP coverage aspiration for 2033.

Nevertheless Matthew hopes to install Zzoomm’s first FTTP broadband lines during summer 2019 and the company has set itself an ambition to cover 1 million homes within the next 5 years (end of 2024), which is plausible provided they can fend off against more established rivals. The latter may explain their focus on smaller cities and suburbs, since a lot of the early urban FTTP roll-outs tend to target the biggest cities and central areas.

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Mark Jackson
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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33 Responses
  1. Avatar AnotherTim

    “The full fibre revolution is here, but many are currently left behind.”
    Yes, like the many people living in areas Gigaclear have BDUK awards for, where there is no visible progress, very long delays, and no target dates.

    • Avatar Ray Woodward

      Well if you will live north of Watford …

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I was about to say that I don’t live north of Watford, but I checked, and surprisingly I live at exactly the same latitude as Watford – just quite a bit further west.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      What makes you think you are any better off in Central London?

      Huge pockets of ADSL only for a whole host of reasons.

      Bad broadband is sadly a widely shared experience for everyone everywhere…..

    • Avatar Joe

      Even central London is better than many rural areas! And generally London, though not perfect, is fixing itself faster than anywhere else.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @Joe

      London is still remarkably patchy in my current experience

      Very rich areas where you can’t get other than ADSL (not even VM) where the commercials for selling high grade products are a no brainier.

      Yes, there is excellent large scale work being done on social – and TBH in London is you want top notch broadband get a flat with fibre and better still get a Council flat in one of the boroughs where it is full steam ahead with fibre to the tower block.

      And before someone starts moaning about how unfair it is that council tenants get such good broadband this has not cost the councils a single penny in ratepayers money: it is all commercial. They have just allowed it to happen by making wayleaves easy and not getting in the way.

  2. Avatar Steve

    I live in East Devon and we have Gigaclear full fibre here. Sort of. We have a pot and a fibre in the road and even a cabinet, but every so often the fibre pokes out of the ground and is covered in tape and left in the hedge. Someone did come round and paint numbers on the road by every pot the other day and that’s the most progress we’ve seen since the crews were digging up the roads last summer. Surely rather than messing about re-writing plans endlessly they should be directing whatever engineering resource they have to connect up these fibres? We were the first village in East Devon to be targeted and yet we might as well not have it at all for all the progress that’s been made. Even connecting up one area every couple of weeks would be welcome progress and a sign of good intent. I freely admit I know little to nothing about the machinations of these deals but residents put up with a lot of disruption for no benefit as far as I can see and there is no explanation for why the fibres are randomly sticking out of hedges and left lying there, connected to sod all.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      If Matthew Hare was half as good at delivering broadband as he is at hyping his companies we’d all have had Gigaclear several years ago. I wonder whether Prudential are regretting their purchase yet? I can’t believe they could have done very extensive due diligence given the total halt in progress since they bought Gigaclear.
      The total lack of information coming from Gigaclear is disgraceful. In my opinion Fastershire should just cancel the unstarted Gigaclear rollouts and make the money available to other companies.

    • Avatar Joe

      Work is ongoing in your area they were pretty active in E Devon last year; I’m surrounded by GC bb in nearby villages that went online last year.

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      @Joe

      Most of the active connections in East Devon are the Gigaclear commercial build centred around Upottery, plus the CDS funded build around Millhayes / Stockland – is that what you refer to or do you know of other live villages?

      There was lots of activity last year but that all ceased in October and other than areas Truespeed are building there has been very little activity at all.

    • Avatar Joe

      I’m in the blackdown hills so those are near me. As steve suggests I’ve also seen low level activity in spots still.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      I don’t know the scheme very well at all.

      But I too am surprised that they don’t have a couple of gangs tidying up and finishing off where the backhaul is actually in place. Does seem strange having spend the big bucks on the backhaul not to get some return on that.

      Of course that assumes that the backhaul actually goes somewhere useful…..or even all the way there………

      Unfortunately it is a very common error in civils to get rid of the whole management team because it is going a bit wrong. It is all too easy to play shoot the messenger.

      Without understanding that the ‘going wrong’ bit wasn’t as a result of the ineptitude of the management but of spectator issues. And maybe a steep ramp up learning curve that went beyond improvised management structures. You can get away with a lot of on the hoof management provided the scale is kept sensible.

      New team in, same issues have to be resolved and there is a big learning curve of things that were in the heads of the other teams. The ex team can often have a better feel for how to make a quick solve on the ground.

      Looking at this from the outside I would suggest it was a case of right people, wrong processes.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      For me, what it most troubling is that in several areas (CDS and Fastershire in oarticular) everything was perceived by management (and the BDUK organisations) as going fine until suddenly it wasn’t. They now seem unable to even put together a plan of what to do next. In fact they can’t even make a plan of how to put a plan together. They were going to produce new rollout plans for CDS and Fastershire several months ago – and there is still no sign of such plans, or even any date of when such plans might be produced.

    • Avatar Steve

      @Joe

      Interesting to know. I’m in the Awliscombe and Weston area and all quiet here.

      I don’t know a lot about Matthew Hare but clearly he’s savvy enough to make money on these deals given he’s spending a million quid of his own money on this new partnership. However, if it is anything like Gigaclear is at the moment then it seems likely to be a case of the emperor’s new clothes and feel sorry for the urban residents this company will undoubtedly make empty promises to, whilst those at the top enjoy the fruit of some government wing wangs falling into their collective pockets.

  3. Avatar AnotherTim

    In April 2017 Gigaclear announced its 10,000th customer. In February 2018 it reached 15,000 customers (60,000 properties passed), and they were aiming for 20,000 by summer 2018. Does anyone know how many it has now? I’m suspecting no more than the 20,000 that they aimed for last summer. There have still been no connections in Fastershire Lot 3c or Lot2 at all that I’m aware of.
    Their target when they were bought of 150,000 properties passed by the end of 2020 would have required over 700 properties per week to be passed. I don’t believe they are achieving even a tenth of that.

  4. Avatar Graham Long

    The current hiatus in Gigaclear’s fibre roll out under their five BDUK/DCMS subsidised contracts with CDS is due to DCMS/HM Treasury/EU Competition Commissioner not approving extension of the contracts beyond 2020 after Gigaclear failed to deliver the required number of Connections as of Sept 30, 2018. No payments have been made to Gigaclear since then and we are in the crazy situation that because Gigaclear were operationally behind schedule last September, a further five months of bureaucratic delay has now been added and at present there is no end to that in sight. The only people suffering from this delay are rural residents of Devon & Somerset who were promised superfast broadband by CDS in 2015. Ten days ago the MP for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow, met with DCMS Minister Margot James to move things along and she was sent off to write a letter to HM Treasury!. It is understood that Gigaclear are only asking for an extension of their contracts, not additional funding, and it is suspected that the logjam may be the UE Competition Commissioner because the contracts were let under EU state aid rules. When Gigaclear were delayed by Worcestershire CC not approving roadworks requests in 2017, they pulled out of that contract. How long will Gigaclear wait to get their CDS contracts extended?

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Paying devil’s advocate, why should Gigaclear get an extension to the contracts? They have a proven track record of being unable to build their networks in a timely manner, or even provide information about progress. Committing the funding to Gigaclear will just ensure that no other solution can be contemplated, and we have no option but to wait and wait. Meanwhile FTTP is being rolled out in urban areas at a rate of thousands of properties a week. The current BDUK plans are not fit for purpose. Other alternatives need to be looked at urgently – paying to improve 4G coverage from Three or EE seems the best option to me.

    • Avatar Graham Long

      @Another Tim: It is a statistical fact that 60% of all UK civil engineering projects overrun. The CDS Phase 1 contract with BT overran and they were only replacing cabinets and installing fibre from exchange to cabinet in their own existing ducts. Gigaclear are building a new underground fibre network from scratch. Dare I mention CrossRail? 4G, optimised for mobile data is not the solution.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      So waiting another 2 years (without further delays) for a FTTP build to even start in some areas is really the best solution available? Really?

    • Avatar Graham Long

      @AnotherTim. the vast majority of the delay you are suffering was caused by CDS long before Gigaclear even bid for Phase 2. The EU approved Phase 2 state aid funding in 2012 with the requirement that CDS signed contracts with suppiers by 2015 (3 years). CDS failed to meet the 2015 deadline having aborted two contracting rounds. By the time CDS attempted a third contracting round, the EU impossed 2015 deadline had expired and the EU took almost another year working with BDUK to draw up new contract specs including a requirement for Devon & Somerset to be split into 6 contract areas (which bear no relation to any existing boundaries). It now appears that the EU again may be holding things up by not approving extension of the contract.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I’m not actually in the CDS area, I’m covered by Fastershire. In the past 2 years since Gigaclear “started” work, there has been no Gigaclear connections at all made in Lot2 or Lot3c (which covers a vast area including my local area) – as recently as September 2018 Fastershire confirmed to me that the build would start in MY LOCAL area in September 2018 (after it had previously had the start date changed twice). There is now no planned date at all. However, my area is due to be one of the last in 3c to be built, and the first part of the build in the first area of Lot3c has just started this month. The last information I heard from Gigaclear was they couldn’t say when my local build would start, but that I wouldn’t have any FTTP until at least 2021.

    • Avatar Graham Long

      @AnotherTim: Fastershire doesn’t appear to have a Gigaclear roll out table as does the CDS roll out but a statement on the Fastershire webpage dated Jan 3 does say that Fastershire has required Gigaclear to produce a new deployment plan. I assume this affects you: http://www.fastershire.com/news/article/122/2019/01/03/stage-3-gigaclear-build-update

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Yes, indeed. Gigaclear finally admitted that they were running late in October, and all the dates went away. They were to produce an updated plan in November. Then by end of January. There is no way to know whether they have now provided a new plan to Fastershire, as it will take Fastershire months to decide whether it is acceptable. Meanwhile Fastershire have produced a long list of areas where the build is continuing – these are almost entirely areas in the Cotswolds that were part of an earlier stage. There are no new areas included. So in my lot the original completion date has now passed, and the build hasn’t really started. Meanwhile we are “in plan” so are not eligible for vouchers. USO won’t help as the build costs are at least an order of magnitude over the threshold.
      So 4G is the only game in town for the foreseeable future.

    • Avatar Somerset

      Gigaclear don’t have a problem working now in North Somerset towards Bath, see roadworks. Maybe because they want to keep ahead of Truespeed.

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      Its nothing to do with state aid delays, the EU or extending contracts – Infracapital have a problem, they purchased Gigaclear at a point where it was due to reach profitability in 2019 but its growth to then was predominatly based on the sell 30% & build model (which ironically Truespeed are replicating now). The BDUK contracts they hold dont work financially – that is what Infracapital have understood and that is the cause of the radio silence since the October announcements in nearly every BDUK area.

      The only reason there is build in North Somerset is they would face legal issues with any extension – that contract has already been the subject of a settlement which no one wants.

      In CDS area specifically Gigaclear announced 40000+ commercial build – yet this is only actively being built in North Somerset / Lot1 (~6000) there is no activity elsewhere – why?

      Infracapital have been clear to attribute blame on previous management and it isnt a surprise that Matthew, who pioneered rural fibre delivery is entering a very different, arguably harder commercially, market in the suburban space overbuilding FTTC? Is the reality that for rural fibre you either need paid up customers before build or much bigger subsidies to make the maths work?

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      @Jim, I agree with your assessment. It is clear that Infracapital didn’t get quite what they thought they were getting. Gigaclear’s previous management just made the right noises, and held out just long enough to get a sale before anyone noticed they couldn’t deliver on the hyperbole. And it worked out so well for them that Matthew Hare is trying the same trick again.
      What is much less clear is the way forward from here.
      Personally I can’t see the current BDUK (particularly CDS and Fastershire) rollouts working out to anyone’s satisfaction. Is it time to rethink?

  5. Avatar St Christopher

    You have also to remember that there are serious resource issues particularly on the civils side of the works. A lot of civils companies are simply fed up to the teeth with the punitive and ridiculous fines imposed by local authorities. Being fined £ 180,000 for leaving a cone behind on the grass verge for 2 months is simply ridiculous. The fines were to stop prolonged roadworks not make money out of contractors.

  6. Avatar CarlT

    And this comments section gets utterly hijacked by the usual suspect having their hourly moan about Gigaclear even though it’s absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      @Carl

      I would say comments on past performance are important when there is talk of a brand new entrant delivering 1M Full fibre coverage in 5 years from a standing start, with no staff, no infrastructure and a lot of questions about the exit from their last venture and the state that previous company has been found to be in.

      Right now you just have to say FullFibre and it seems investors will descend on a startup, yet again today Virgin clearly shows that building networks is much tougher and slower than they want it to be… Lets hope every company delivers what they are promising and those that fall away do so without investors changing their view on the long term risks / returns.

  7. Avatar Walter E B Macqueen.

    Don’t understand how the apparent problems in other areas than West Berkshire ocured..we have had a successful Gigaclear service for some months now and are now being offered an up rating (in my case), of speed to over 300mbs from 100mbs for less cash!

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Looks like you’ve been lucky! It looks like the West Berks rollout should be finished this year, and East Berks should be finished within 2 years. The East Berks contract was signed after the Fastershire contract in my area, but is scheduled to finish before the build in my area starts.

  8. Avatar Viki

    Has anyone thought about Voneus wireless broadband in Devon and Somerset they are in quite a few communities already ?

  9. Avatar Paul

    Are we likely to get situations where different providers have cabled the same road with their own separate infrastructure? Or, if you say have Virgin cable in your street, will Virgin always be your only cable option? If so, that restricts price competition

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