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Cityfibre Seek Flexibility from Vodafone’s Full Fibre ISP Contract

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 (6:43 am) - Score 4,314

At present if you want to take a home broadband service on Cityfibre’s new Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network then, under an exclusivity agreement, you have to get it from their UK ISP partner Vodafone (Gigafast Broadband). But if a reported contract renegotiation succeeds then more ISPs could join (TalkTalk, Sky Broadband etc.).

One of the achilles heels of many new alternative fibre optic networks is that they lack support from a major ISP, which was also one of the contributing factors in the collapse of the publicly funded Digital Region network in South Yorkshire some years ago (here). By getting a major ISP to support your network you benefit from their marketing prowess, support and mass market appeal, among other things, which helps to convert customers.

As such when Cityfibre announced their £2.5bn network rollout strategy in 2018 they did so alongside an exclusivity agreement with Vodafone UK (here and here). At present Phase One of this deployment has already seen Cityfibre commit £500m to cover a “minimum” of 1 million homes and businesses in 12 initial cities and towns by the end of 2021 (so far they’ve done well over 100,000 and are ramping up), before reaching 5 million premises across 60 UK cities and towns by the end of 2025.

Since that began the market has begun to change and some big ISPs, such as Sky Broadband, have been openly hunting for partnerships with Virgin Media and alternative network (altnet) providers (here, here and here). Meanwhile Cityfibre are also in the frame to acquire TalkTalk’s full fibre network sibling – FibreNation (here). On top of that Vodafone has moved to take Openreach’s FTTP, which feels like an uncomfortable position for Cityfibre (here).

At present Vodafone is understood to have some exclusivity over Cityfibre’s first 1 million premises (essentially lasting until they finish the build in each of those 12 initial cities). Naturally, given the aforementioned situation, it would not be surprising if Cityfibre were to seek a major contract renegotiation with Vodafone and that’s precisely what the Telegraph claims is happening.

The report suggests that Cityfibre may be seeking concessions from Vodafone, which would hand the ISP better commercial terms (details are not mentioned but we suspect this could involve cheaper wholesale products or limited access to better speeds) in return for allowing them to sign-up additional ISPs. The talks are said to be at an advanced stage and would no doubt be essential if Cityfibre do gobble FibreNation for c.£200m.

The proposed deal with TalkTalk for FibreNation was last week paused after Labour’s threat to the market, which proposed a free nationalised full fibre network for all UK homes and businesses. Commercial ISPs could not compete with that (here and here) and so some market deals and investments have been put on hold until after the election.

According to the newspaper, part of the Cityfibre deal for FibreNation would involve a requirement for TalkTalk to migrate their broadband customers in related areas on to Cityfibre’s FTTH network as coverage grows (we hope customers will be given a choice). We suspect there will be a lot of interesting developments to report after the 2019 General Election on 12th December.

Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar FibreBubble

    Distress signals.

    All part of the superbubble 😉

    • Avatar Tulip

      Was a bad deal to start with, VF didn’t have the base to fill up the CF network. With Sky and TT adding customers to CF they could well start to make a return and put more pressure on Openreach. Worrying that these investments burn through all this cash.

    • Avatar CarlT

      I think you misunderstand this deal, Tulip. CityFibre were making money out of it whatever – Vodafone agreed to pay them for a certain level of take up whatever they sold.

      CF now believe they can make more £££, and if Vodafone aren’t confident they can achieve the take up level they were hoping for, so will be paying CF for nothing, they’ll likely have little problem with giving up the exclusivity in return for some concessions.

      This was minimal risk for CF, Vodafone took it on via the anchor tenancy agreement.

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