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Devon and Somerset UK Scrap Gigaclear FTTP Broadband Contract

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 (4:23 pm) - Score 6,744
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In yet another major upset the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) project has today taken the decision to end their contract with “full fibre” broadband ISP Gigaclear, which last year suffered significant delays that set some parts of their rollout back by around 2 years. Sadly efforts to agree a revised plan were not successful.

The news will no doubt be seen as a huge embarrassment for CDS, which over the years has become known for some questionable decision making. First there was a delay of almost two years following the 2015 collapse of their first attempt to secure a Phase 2 “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) contract with Openreach (here), which was eventually followed in 2016 and 2017 by a series of new Phase 2 contracts with both Airband and Gigaclear.

Gigaclear’s original Phase 2 contract required them to build an entirely new 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network, which would cover 41,000 rural premises across various parts of the two counties by the end of December 2019 (complementing a separate commercial build). This was later extended to June 2020 following Government approval to expand the network to a further 6,810 premises (total of 47,810).

All seemed to be going well until October 2018, when it was revealed that Gigaclear had fallen “significantly behind schedule” (in some cases by as much as 2 years) due to “fundamental issues,” such as a lack of operational capacity, poor decision making within the ISP, slow deployment by contractors, a lack of detailed planning and a failure to redesign the build methodology (here).

In response the local authorities put Gigaclear on notice of a possible default and withheld further payments, while Gigaclear’s new owner (Infracapital) moved to correct their problems and continued the rollout at their own risk. Unfortunately their revised rollout plan was rejected earlier this year and a second plan was recently submitted, which we now know has also been rejected.

Councillor David Hall, CDS Board Member, said:

“Despite painstaking work by all concerned, it has not been possible to agree a recovery plan that CDS and the Government’s Building Digital UK agency could support with confidence.

CDS is working closely with BDUK on a new procurement process and taking all necessary steps to secure alternative full-fibre broadband providers for our residents and businesses. They are our top priority and we are determined to achieve the best possible outcome for them.

We welcome the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s expressed commitment to ensuring that our residents will benefit from world class broadband infrastructure in line with the ambitions for nationwide full fibre coverage.

We have already held productive meetings with a number of companies interested in building full fibre networks in Devon and Somerset.

CDS will also be expanding its Community Challenge Fund later this year, following successful pilots in Devon and Somerset. We are advancing a new collaboration with BT to extend coverage in rural areas, good progress is being made through our contract with Airband to provide 21,000 premises with superfast broadband. We are also now offering broadband vouchers to residents and businesses under the national BDUK Better Broadband scheme and the Rural Gigabit scheme. This is all on top of the more than 300,000 homes and businesses who now have access to superfast broadband through the CDS programme.”

The decision won’t come as a surprise to some, although we had expected CDS to ultimately retain Gigaclear’s contract because, realistically, they may struggle to find any operator that could deliver a comparable coverage commitment via FTTP and within the same level of funding (Gigaclear committed over £43m of its own money for what is quite a challenging rural area).

Equally the move to find a new supplier will not make FTTP any quicker to deploy than it would have been under Gigaclear and indeed the proposed areas may now end up taking even longer to reach than if CDS had retained the existing contract. We won’t know for sure until a new contract is agreed but that would be our bet (assuming FTTP is still the solution of choice).

The CDS team now intend to launch a fresh procurement on the “open market” this autumn, commencing a tender process to identify new provider(s) of these services. Such large contracts cannot be rushed and so we won’t expect to learn the final outcome of that until around spring 2020 (our educated guess).

The one bit of positive news for Gigaclear is that their delays in other BDUK framework contracts have, so far, not resulted in a similar outcome and remain on-going. Nevertheless the CDS decision is likely to be significant for Gigaclear and we’ll be watching closely to see if Infracapital moves to reassure the industry of their future stability.

In the meantime Gigaclear has said that they’re “disappointed” (probably an understatement) by the CDS decision and, perhaps more worryingly, are now “considering our future plans in the region.” We take this to mean that their commercial FTTP deployments in Devon and Somerset are under review and could also be scaled back or scrapped in response.

The situation is possibly another example of a historic problem that can hit any business. Sometimes a smaller business needs to dramatically scale-up its operations to match a new contract(s) and it’s not uncommon for this to create a lot of complicated problems, which is something Gigaclear had to learn the hard way (their new owners came in just as the storm created by previous management hit).

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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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40 Responses
  1. Avatar MrNew

    Very disappointing for those who were scheduled to get better broadband via Gigaclear in Devon and Somerset. Lets hope an alternative solution is sorted quickly.

    • Avatar Dermot Paddon

      I fear you will hope in vain. Realistically a year to let a new contact and then 3 months minimum to start infrastructure works and any new provider will face the same issues as Gigaclear +who I have no connection with for the avoidance of doubt

  2. Avatar TheFacts

    Many people in Devon & Somerset were fortunate to get Superfantastic from BT a few years ago.

  3. Avatar Niall

    Five years wasted by CDS. The leadership should be removed from their posts immediately as they have utterly failed to deliver on their promises. They hailed Gigaclear as a better outcome than BT for Devon, but that has proved to be completely wrong and will result in many communities suffering from slow broadband for many years to come. The country’s most experienced Provider of Superfast told them it would take years and yet those chose to believe a company with no proven track record of delivering at the scale and speed required to achieve the delivery dates.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      I agree – those heads should include the key decision makers including both the senior and highly paid officers and councillors. They’ve been responsible for significant extra cost and delay, need to be held to account.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      BT also looked to have struggled in CDS. The delivery looks slower, less FTTP in-fill. Was there resource issues specific to this patch?

      The CDS audits seem particularly uniformed. Were all the budgets forthcoming? Nearly a £100m of public funding and direct contributions from BT of £24m for 300k premises passed suggests funding was not the problem.

      It takes some explaining.

  4. Avatar AnotherTim

    Hopefully the new roll-out plans that Gigaclear are in the process of producing for Fastershire will avoid the same situation occurring in the Fastershire region.

  5. Avatar Steve Pettifer

    Odd. Gigaclear were down my street last week in area 1 of the East Devon work with Kier and told me they were starting work again, starting with replacing the plastic pots they put in the road for metal ones. Disappointing as I had hoped this might kick start again.

    • Avatar Geepon Glen

      You may want to have a look at Jurassic Fibre. I have seen posters in the villages in East Devon just outside Exeter saying they are providing full FTTX. If it means getting better broadband I am prepared to go with anyone.

    • Avatar MikeP

      @Geepon Glen – Jurassic definitely look interesting. I see they have their planned coverage for Phase 1 up on their website now, and a number of community engagement events coming up over the next couple of weeks. Recruiting hard too ! Hopefully, success in the Exeter airport – Exmouth corridor will lead to further areas being served.

  6. Avatar Ivor

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the Tamar, Openreach seem to have done a very good job of getting FTTP further and further out from the town/village centres. It’s just a shame they went full steam ahead on FTTC at the beginning of the rollout.

    Perhaps rural FTTP is harder than the BT naysayers claim?

  7. Avatar James83

    The CDS stakeholder briefing suggests that Gigaclear withdrew their revised plan rather than it having been rejected – quote, “Remedial plans proposed by Gigaclear were withdrawn in January this year with the company saying it could no longer afford the cost of a redesigned programme.” Here’s the briefing: https://www.connectingdevonandsomerset.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/CDS-programme-briefing-Sept-12-2019.pdf

  8. Avatar Jim Weir

    “Targets have continued to be missed by a substantial margin. By the end of the first quarter of this year (June 30,2019) Gigaclear had provided 496 properties with access to the new network compared to contract targets totalling 28,689.”

    Missed? Or Total Failure?

  9. Avatar StillWaitingForSuperFast

    Absolutely gutted for the residents of Devon & Somerset.

    We are now probably looking at another 2 year tender process followed by a 2 year build (if anyone wants the job).

    We have all been completely let down by CDS.

    Hopefully the smaller suppliers like Truespeed and Airband will now step in to alleviate some of the pain.

  10. Avatar sd

    Huge disappointment as Gigaclear (or Avon Networks rather) layed the fiber in front of my house end of 2018.
    Their sales team said it would be ready for March 19, later June 19 and last update was Q4 ’19.

    I guess this means although the fiber is there,I will never be able to be connected?
    Guess I will have to wait 2 more years now to have another company take over that fiber and connect customers to it?
    Will have to do with my slow BT @ 35Mbits/s for a long while I guess..

    • Avatar JB

      “Will have to do with my slow BT @ 35Mbits/s for a long while I guess”

      I live about mid way between Exeter and Tiverton and if I’m really lucky will only get 5 to 7 mbps download at best with BT Broadband. I would count yourself very luck.
      I’m unfortunately also in a Mobile not spot for all carriers so can’t turn to Mobile Broadband as a substitute.

    • Avatar StillWaitingForSuperFast

      @JB have you looked at Airband? Im pretty sure that they cover that area.

    • Avatar MikeP

      5-7 Mbps ? Lucky you. I can get a daytime, dry weather sync that just touches 4Mbps, so peak download of 3.7Mbps. Without SNR margin tweaking, best sync I can get is 3.2Mbps.
      Only 3/4G solution is remote router on a mast, and even then there are 2 medium-sized camping sites covered by those base stations so I’d expect summer evenings to be dire.
      We were in Gigaclear coverage, seriously thought about organising community dig after Sep ’18 but a) life’s too busy and b) around 60% of the village is holiday lets/2nd homes, so community engagement would be challenging. (Now anyone who knows East Devon knows where I’m talking about).

  11. Avatar FibreBubble

    Reckon the object of winning a lot of these contracts was not completing them but selling the business with an order book and getting out of the bubble at the right time..

  12. Avatar AnotherTim

    “CDS intends to launch a fresh procurement this autumn. This will start an estimated 12-month tender process”
    A year or so delay before new contracts are in place, then several years to build. It highlights the futility of a 2025 target for 100% FTTP.

  13. Avatar Phil S

    With the advent of some 4G suppliers- Vodaphone and 3- opening up unlimited data packages I’ve carried out a few installations for clients who were waiting for Gigaclear. One was receiving 0.8 Mbps down the broadband line- she’s now on 30 Mbps 4G and happy.
    It’s a great (reasonably priced) alternative.
    You can check your 4G coverage on the 3 and Vodaphone websites.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I’m using Three 4G which has become available since I started waiting for Gigaclear. Is isn’t superfast (only 5MHz channel on 800MHz band), but much better than ADSL.
      As it will take Gigaclear another couple of years to get to my locality (if there are no further delays) I expect 4G to improve before they get here. Given the difference in prices (particularly for business use) I don’t expect Gigaclear to have much of a market by the time they get here.

    • Avatar Phil S

      Three’s no good for me- we’re below the crest of a rise down from a mast which struggles to give us even 3G (even though we’re only a few hundred yards from it)! I’ve heard the Vodaphone adverts on the radio recently so bought a SIM card today- 45Mbps!!! Waiting on the kit to be delivered-£30pm for the unlimited max package.
      Gigaclear have been digging up the roads in in my local area for the last couple of years so we were excited when they did the next lane to ours last week only to hear this news today 🙁
      Were the powers that be over optimistic in their ability to deliver?

  14. Avatar MrBeanyman

    I envy the person getting 5-7 Mb/s. Here in Aylesbeare, we’re lucky to get 1. We’re 2 miles from Exeter Airport.

    • Avatar There be Dragons.

      We were getting worse than that with BT, but, there is hope ! See below.

    • Avatar Phil S

      Check out what 4G availability the various mobile suppliers have on offer in your area using their own signal checker. As has been mentioned, a number of them are now doing unlimited packages with fantastic speeds (see the news section at the top of this page)
      The kit is available on Amazon at a reasonable price- I’ve had great results using a Huawei unlocked E3372 with a USB extension cable into a TP-Link MR3420. You just need to plug it all in and configure the WiFi settings through the TP-Link and you’re away.
      Good luck!

    • Avatar MikeP

      Looks like you’re just outside Jurassic Fibre’s Phase 1 area. https://jurassic-fibre.com/our-plans . Might be worth checking with them, though

  15. Avatar There be Dragons.

    7.74 Mbps download and 17.9Mbps upload, very rural Devon, with 3 devices on the go, 4 if you include the Sky box, all unlimited, £23 a month, may I suggest you visit the 3 store in High street Exeter. Mobile broadband router is fantastic, no need for phone line rental either ! You pick up the box, put the SIM in, plug it in and away you go. They do “prefer” to be near a window though.

  16. Avatar Michael R

    In 2016 we were promised FTTP by Gigaclear and in late 2017 the main fibre able was laid past my house a pot installed outside. There is a cabinet in my Hamlet linking it all up. But since then empty promises and outright lies. CDS response has been nothing at all in all that time. Now negativity. I get possibly 3Mbps download and zero yes zero upload. Time to stop trusting and look for an alternative.

  17. Avatar Richard

    The environment and market in FTTP is changing rapidly. When the Gigaclear contract was let, Truespeed had not yet got funding, Jurassic weren’t around and Openreach PIA was a minority event. 5G hadn’t started and 4G data packages were still expensive. All this has changed in the last year.

    Now there are more options, CDS could let 6 different lots to six different providers with stringent terms that failure to hit milestones will mean contract termination and instant handover to the best performer. Competition working for the customer.
    Also we shoud now be thinking of open fibre access, not just gigabit broadband leaving people tied into one provider. A PIA-based Layer 1 infrastructure provider could install FTTP and allow any provider to rent fibre between neutral Points-of-Interconnection and the consumer. ISPs would therefore have dark fibre.
    The problem is finding such an operator willing to add £43m of their own money like Gigaclear.
    My friend in deepest darkest Somerset with 0.2Mb broadband waits with bated breath.

  18. Avatar AndrewH

    FFS. Bloody shower! Maybe get some people in who can actually organise shit?
    By the time we have anything here it won’t be needed because 5G/Starlink will probably provide it all anyway.
    What a total f*** up!!

  19. Avatar PhilH

    Our village in South Devon has had almost all of the houses linked up with tube, the roadside cabs installed and is only awaiting backhaul. Just spoke to the local Gigaclear PM who assures me that Gigaclear still plan to provide service here independent of the CDS contract, so all the disruption from 2+ years of civils won’t be in vain. Don’t hold out much hope for areas where they haven’t done any serious digging, but sounds like places with significant infrastructure ready to go or nearly so may still get service from Gigaclear – assuming that Infracapital don’t walk away..

  20. Avatar Fred

    CDS are a joke. I appreciate that these projects are complex but CDS are responsible. If a supplier fails to deliver then the procurement team still carry the can. They clearly failed due diligence ‘twice’. Heads should roll.

    Luckily I have FWA that is quite good, 4g fail over, and hopefully soon to have Truespeed (although I don’t like their service much).

    For others not so fortunate this is disastrous news. Hopefully other alt nets might fill in some of the gaps in the short term with help from all the new unlimited cellular plans.

    F

  21. Avatar Mr London John

    This was to good to be true, all the roads been dug up in our area by Gigaclear, so many roads being closed, thought we were getting super fast but now we getting super slow, bad workman ship and poor quality of work in our are by gigaclear, Roll on BT Openreach always there we you need it not always the fastest but Reliable.

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