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Update on Greater Manchester’s £32m Gigabit Full Fibre Project

Saturday, January 11th, 2020 (7:35 am) - Score 2,439
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The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has given its approval to the selection of a preferred bidder (due to be named within the next few weeks) to deliver on their Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) project, which originally aimed to deploy a 450km long Gigabit speed fibre network to serve 1,300 public sector sites.

The new wholesale Dark Fibre network, which is supported by £23.7m from the UK Government’s Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) fund, eventually hopes to encourage further private sector investment of up to £250m (e.g. broadband ISPs could use it to help extend their own fibre FTTP networks). Some of the funding (c.£2.5m) would also help to support the existing Cooperative Network Infrastructure (CNI) scheme in Tameside, which is already being harnessed by some ISPs (e.g. Virgin Media).

The procurement process for all this began in spring last year (here) and the GMCA has now chosen a preferred supplier to deliver the new network (they’ll be named soon but Cityfibre, Virgin Media and others are a fair bet). However there have been a few changes since the tender went out, which were covered in this week’s meeting document.

One key point concerns the fact that Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband coverage in Salford has risen significantly (from 10% to 45%) since the procurement process began – largely due to Openreach’s (BT) Fibre First build – and that resulted in some overbuild concerns. As a result it was agreed that Salford City Council would be removed from the Anchor Tenancy procurement and a smaller number of eligible sites will now be delivered through the Public Sector Buildings Upgrade (PSBU) model.

Other key points from the tender process

Public sector partners will get 30 years connectivity instead of 20 years for the same cost – 50% longer Indefeasible Rights of Use (IRU) is being offered – This means that whilst partners investment was calculated based on a proportion of connectivity spend over 20 years – LAs, GMCA/F&RS and GMCA/TfGM will benefit from 30 years access to full fibre.

In excess of 200 additional public sector sites will be connected at no additional cost to local authority partners and GMCA/FRS and TfGM. The majority of local authorities will benefit from having at least 40% more sites connected.

Partner contributions will not exceed the capped upfront capital contributions agreed in March 2019.

Will deliver up to 2,717Km of new full fibre across GM with 97% provided via existing ducting which will minimise disruption – which will be supported by the adoption and implementation of the GM Prospectus aimed at simplifying administrative processes and providing a consistent public sector approach to the roll out of full fibre broadband in GM. Whilst work to recondition ducting will be needed, the total length of new dig is estimated at only 9km and is largely in short segments to connect individual sites.

Residential and business premises passed will be up to 45% of GM rather than the 25% originally forecast, significantly increasing the potential reach for wider roll out, and offering future opportunities for smart city development.

Better service options: Local public sector services will be free to procure services from any provider across the open access network.

Social value: This includes planned apprentice appointments, working to increase digital skills in Greater Manchester and reducing homelessness.

The grant offer from DCMS (Government) requires Greater Manchester to defray all LFFN funding by the end of March 2021, which doesn’t allow much time for building. As such the preferred bidder is expected to sign their contract in early February “at the latest” and then “works will commence on site from Spring 2020.”

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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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13 Responses
  1. Avatar A_Builder

    It is amazing really that this was a ray of hope to enable Alt Nets to build out from this backbone. OK it is primarily about public sector connectivity but it was at the same time barrier busting stuff.

    Now with fibre First in full swing it feels a bit yesterday.

    Be interesting to see what competitor products (to OR) get hung off this network.

  2. Avatar FibreBubble

    State Aided build in an area with ample free market provision.

    • Avatar CarlT

      It’s a local government IT procurement project?

      That it reduces costs to build new FTTP to homes and businesses is, of course, a bonus.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      I have commented before regarding LFFN funding going to places where there is already competition and this is yet another example. But what I can’t understand here is DCMS continuing to grant LFFN despite “DCMS concern about LFFN grant being used to overbuild” being present and why in this case it isn’t being taken as a clear indication that the situation on the ground is subject to change.
      Any future private investment projections for this new dark fibre network are probably being overstated. Particularly as these are very longterm agreements. OR has already stated it is following a contiguous approach and VM can provide Ultra now to non core sites and both provide Fibre on request to remote buildings. Other providers are present in the city and the public bodies can easily deal with the technical differences. While there is an opportunity for focused Altnet (MDU, New Build etc) I can’t see this as attractive area for Altnet rollouts.
      So my conclusion is LFFN is being used as back door public sector network upgrade and a direct subsidy to certain businesses. Which may be justified where there is no choice but not situations like this.

    • Avatar CarlT

      No-one seems to care Meadmodj. The EU has not raised State Aid concerns. The telcos have not set the lawyers on all the projects.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      The ghost of State Aid has been widely used in the UK to derail a number of things.

      It is often twisted into meanings it never really had.

      The EU doesn’t care because

      a) it is EU policy to fibre up
      b) the EU does not want to disrupt any fibre builds at scale as these arguments take years to resolve
      c) only BT or VM have deep enough pockets to fund a pointless argument to delay/derail things and they don’t want to as someone else generally retaliates in kind.

      Oh and due to B*E*T by the time the EU did anything it the UK would have left….

    • Avatar FibreBubble

      Reckon you could count on one finger how many homes have benefited from this State Aid funded build.

    • Avatar CarlT

      I’m not sure what part of that it’s a local government IT procurement project is difficult to understand.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      We all know its a local government IT procurement scheme, but the way they are covered in local press will be giving lots of the general public the impression that FTTP is on the way quickly.

      But hey money is not going to BT so thats a good thing surely.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      I think the issue here is that it is using state aid to over build existing network on the thin justification of delivering fibre to public buildings that, in many cases, will already have fibre feeds for leased lines. In other words, the net increase in fibre coverage at premise level is zero.

      It’s almost worth making a complaint about illegal state aid for the fun of it as it’s unlikely that the government bothered to get clearance for this scheme before launching it – it certainly hasn’t bothered for previous schemes, eg vouchers etc. I doubt any of the network operators would complain as they’d fear repercussions, however anyone can make a complaint, including private individuals.

    • Avatar CarlT

      It isn’t using state aid. Central government is giving local authorities cash to buy services.

      Any future state aid issues related to this are on the local authority to resolve.

  3. Avatar Packet Switched

    We are exercised for the sharp end – what homes to medium sized businesses can/could get, reliable fine details for can are rather
    hazy and could is of course aspirational. At the big end we are talking of two large national fibre, coax, POTS companies and four
    mobile networks these would interact though internet exchanges London and provincial with one another and their peers abroad.
    In between the sharp end and the big six you can find more or less anything and point to it but there is in it a lot of backhaul –
    strategic coverage to the bulk of the English population when Mercury began, out to unbundled telephone exchanges and mobile
    phone masts. With an enthusiastic race – and certainly for mobile signals as data far lower prices – on for faster transfer speeds to the home and the mobile device pressure on the back haul seems set to soar.
    What I am working towards suggesting is that connecting up Council premises with a substantial data use which must need reliability as well as throughput wil release capacity at pinch points to which unlit fibre leads and head off capacity failures
    where everybody interacts. Not elegant on any principle but a real useful help to enhance expedients available to muddle through.

    • Avatar CarlT

      What the actual f*’# did I just read?

      I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your, potentially AI, soul.

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