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Liberty Global Seek Code Powers for New UK Full Fibre Sibling

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020 (11:26 am) - Score 3,847

Libert Global is progressing their plans to launch a new “full fibre” broadband network – Liberty Networks – that will be independent of their existing Virgin Media brand in the United Kingdom. The cable giant has just put in a related application for Code Powers with Ofcom, which usually happens before a roll-out begins.

Securing Code Powers from Ofcom can help to speed-up the deployment of new fibre optic networks and cut costs by reducing the number of licenses needed for street works. The application doesn’t reveal much, but it does confirm that they’re planning the “construction and operation of a high-speed broadband network across the UK … [to] serve homes, businesses and public sector organisations.”

Liberty Networks (aka – Project Hermes) also confirmed that they may deploy parts of their network in Openreach’s (BT) existing cable ducts and poles (using the Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product), which is no surprise since Virgin Media are already doing this and PIA has been made a lot more attractive by recent changes (a lot of alternative network ISPs are now using it).

Originally the CEO of Liberty Global, Mike Fries, made no secret of his desire to use Liberty Networks as a platform with which to expand Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband into the 10 million or so premises that exist beyond Virgin Media’s current network (many of these are in rural areas). This could then have been offered via wholesale to Virgin Media and other ISPs, like Sky Broadband.

However the most recent speculation (here) is that Liberty Global may also split their existing Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) and FTTP broadband network off into the new company too and then sell access to rival ISPs (e.g. Sky Broadband, TalkTalk) via wholesale, albeit with Virgin Media being given special access as the anchor tenant.

Such a move would be likely to placate some of Ofcom’s potential regulatory concerns, thus allowing the network coverage to continue growing and enabling them to bid on future broadband contracts (e.g. the Government’s £5bn rural gigabit programme), while also establishing Liberty Networks as a major national rival to Openreach (BT). This would be a truly seismic shift in the UK broadband market.

The question now is how much longer will we have to wait before Liberty Global formally announces their plans. Meanwhile Ofcom will consult upon their request until 21st February 2020, although they almost never reject them.

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17 Responses
  1. Avatar A_Builder

    It is either they are going to

    wholesale the whole thing (including HFC) – personally I think this is unlikely;

    Or

    wholesale the new FTTP build elements – very likely as there would be a lot of takers for that.

    I suspect many CP’s would be wary of VM’s HFC for historical reasons but be very enthusiastic on the pure glass bits.

    Anyway we will see soon enough I guess!

    • Feeling confident that it’s going to be HFC and FTTP, not only new build elements. We shall know for sure soon enough.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      This will be genuinely interesting in how it reshapes Liberty’s curation and investment in the network.

      If Liberty are getting a higher yield they may well upgrade faster.

      This will be a real challenge for OR.

      Fun to watch everyone sharpen their pencils.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Liberty are in a very interesting place. Not only can they rollout FTTP in new areas as Liberty Network they can exploit the existing HFC with Docsis 3.1 undermining any Altnets in their patch. Which begs the question why they are delaying (possible threat of regulation) and how radical they will be.

      BT is probably pondering a number of investment decisions currently and while it still seeks more certainty from Government/Ofcom regarding fixed the potential of Liberty/VM must be playing a big part.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      I note Docsis 3.1 Bridge Modems are now in volume and their price is dropping if VM did go the wholesale route. So ISPs could use their existing routers.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @ Meadmodj

      And then comes the differentiation between connection types.

      So what have you got: upstream, latency & reliability?

      The FTTP boys will go with those three against HFC and VM will go with – well price and or immediacy.

      Have a look at the % VM stats on TBB – that tells a story all of its own. Then look at % fibre uptake which is higher than I even dreamed it would be and then sense the panic on the top floor of VM towers. The only solution is to leverage the network asset and upgrade the thing like stink.

    • Avatar CarlT

      There are no plans to rush upgrades to FTTP within VM towers. The company is part-way through an HFC upgrade. This upgrade does not include facilitating DoCSIS 4.0.

      The take-up of FTTP is as expected given where it’s been deployed – previously underserved areas via BDUK have high take up, and obviously Openreach-only new builds have 100% take up as it’s the only fixed line option. There are over 770,000 premises of the estimated 1.1 million TBB mention from these two. Another 125,000 from ‘old / commercial in-fill’ that have largely never had VDSL due to being exchange only or being enabled in the early days of the superfast programme in lieu of VDSL.

      In Hull there’s no VDSL option to most of the place – FTTP or ADSL – no cable company at all.

      Hyperoptic are doing well in apartment blocks, as are Community Fibre and others.

      In the newer Fibre First areas where FTTP is coming into competition with VM the uptake is low. Cheap FTTC has been far more of an ‘issue’ for VM – TBB state this in their news article.

      ‘Some may just about notice the small G.fast line at the bottom of the chart, the number of speed tests is increasing using the partial fibre technology that is available to over 2.1 million premises across the UK. At the end of 2018 we saw 0.32% of tests using G.fast and at the end of 2019 it was 0.36% of tests. While the obvious conclusion to draw from the figures is that G.fast is not selling, it is worth remembering that sales of Openreach FTTP in similar areas i.e. high VDSL2 speeds of 50 Mbps and faster and invariably Virgin Media also available are not dissimilar.’

      VM saturated their market a while back. No great surprise their market share has largely stagnated.

      These are, of course, also only who’s speed testing on Think Broadband. VM have their own speed test servers, Think Broadband has never been good to them, and have the SamKnows platform.

      I suspect the actual FTTP uptake among those with the choice of FTTP, VM and reasonable VDSL is under 10%. It’s certainly nowhere near 32%. VM’s numbers dropped from 2012 onwards as VDSL became a thing.

      With the upgrades VM are doing their HFC network will be capable of providing multiple Gb/s downstream and 500 Mb/s upstream. This’ll be fine for most – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ILPWLpi_5X5mVaRKSdo88MVpE-ED0lO7

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @CarlT

      I agree with most of what you say. And I’d agree that a 330/330 or 500/500 package is good meat for an SME.

      But marketing is about differentiating the value proposition(s).

      I’d be surprised, if at the very least, existing plans were not moved up the investment ladder.

      And I’d be even more surprised if new services, maybe with better upstream rates, were not trialled first on the FTTP portions of the network for pure ease of setup: if nothing else.

      VM need something different to say now. For years it has been we are faster (downstream) than anyone else – which was true but getting less true with the rapid spread of FTTP.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      I think price is the issue and VM like BT will promote Ultrafast for the interim regardless of the underlying technology.

      To protect their existing base and increase uptake they need to offer more competitive pricing that does not go up after 12 months. However they also need to look at broadband only install and minimise the stiff coax and bulky router. It’s probably too late or radical to use an external bridge modem power by a router via PoE. There will be disruption to the resident for FTTP but VMs current installation is poor.

    • Avatar CarlT

      VM have no interest in supporting separate modems and routers. If they own the CPE end to end that’s dumb.

      If they are offering wholesale products PoE from the CP’s router is even dumber.

      Not happening. Not worth the support overhead for a prettier install – something that’s hardly been a huge cause of complaints that I’ve seen.

  2. Avatar A_Builder

    @CarlT

    “here are no plans to rush upgrades to FTTP within VM towers. The company is part-way through an HFC upgrade. This upgrade does not include facilitating DoCSIS 4.0.”

    I wasn’t suggesting a rush to FTTP or D4 – I was suggesting that the upgrades we have previously discussed here to a full 3.1 standard are likely to be accelerated.

  3. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    @Meadmodj
    I don’t understand what problem you think needs solving. There is aleady broadband only install and people are not complaining about the coax or a bulky router. Of course there are valid complaints about the hubs, though I dare say that Arris doesn’t feel obligated to improve them if VM sets the standards bar low enough (and pays peanuts for the hubs as well}.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Flexibility and elegance. DSL and FTTP allow the NTE/ONT and Router to be sited more suitably. For the VM installs I have witnessed its a whole through the lounge wall to a coax splitter and then a coax to the Router. It makes a little bit more sense if there is also a TIVO box as well but the average consumer has no real flexibility in positioning of the equipment, the router is often in the wrong location (often behind the TV) and an unsightly nest of cabling/equipment in the living room.
      My point was simply regarding broadband only where VM could provide a small compact cable modem (bridge mode) at a suitable entry point and allow the resident to cable to a suitable router location (thin or flat CAT6). My point about PoE is that I cannot see why everything has to have a separate power plug and a need for a 13 amp socket.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @Meadmoj

      I get your point on PoE – except that I’ve never seen a domestic gateway with WAN PoE. So an injector would be needed.

    • Avatar CarlT

      PoE = something else to go wrong. What’s going to power the PoE injector?

      Whose responsibility is it to investigate the power to the modem failing? How many truck rolls are tolerable in the name of flexibility and elegance when the issue is the customer’s cabling or PoE kit?

      There has to be a clear demarcation. PoE messes that up. The owner of the kit provides a PSU with it: job done.

      Most people are content with this side of the service. VM gave up on separate modems a decade ago.

      If they offer a wholesale product then it becomes more viable to offer a cable modem solution to third parties.

  4. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    @Meadmodj
    Your suggestion adds needless complexity. The great majority of broadband-only subscribers just want a box that delivers wired and/or wireless broadband, so a hub makes sense. For those that want their own router the hub can be put into modem mode (or keep the hub in router mode and set up their router in a LAN to LAN connection with an Ethernet cable).

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