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Colchester Green Lights Dark Fibre and 1Gbps Broadband Rollout

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 (2:42 pm) - Score 1,694
colchester_full_fibre_network_map

The Colchester Borough Council (CBC) in Essex and its commercial arm, Colchester Amphora Trading, has – after 2 years of planning and negotiations – been awarded £3.3m from the UK Government’s Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) fund in order to start building a new Dark Fibre network. But local homes are also set to benefit.

At present businesses in the town centre can already access a Dark Fibre network (Colchester Ultra-Fast Broadband), which follows a 2016 agreement with UK ISP County Broadband. But the local authority intends to expand this across the rest of central Colchester and then out toward the more northern reaches (up to around Severalls).

All profits from the project will return to CBC for reinvestment into “good-quality public services for the residents and businesses of Colchester.” On top of that readers may recall that the Swedish operator, VXFIBER, also plans to make use of the network as a basis for their wider £10m investment, which aims to put a gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP network within reach of local homes (here).

VX’s business case is based on securing a 40% share of the available market within 5 years, which equates to some 25,000 properties connected to their gigabit network. All of this is similar to the FTTP network that they’re currently building across Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire UK, which is due to complete by spring 2021 (here).

Councillor Theresa Higgins, CBC Portfolio Holder for Commercial Services, said:

“Securing £3.3 million from DCMS is fantastic news and will ensure that Colchester becomes one of the best-provisioned towns in the country, helping to assist the economic recovery that will be so vital over coming years.

We’ve seen how the coronavirus crisis has underlined the importance for many of being able to work from home with reliable connectivity, and Colchester will receive a world-class infrastructure as a result of this project.”

The council will also utilise its existing property assets, including sheltered housing sites, to help support the roll-out and cover “the more deprived communities“. Meanwhile the core Dark Fibre network will connect the UK’s main internet exchange in London with data distribution facilities in the town centre and at the Northern Gateway.

The new Colchester Fibre site gives a rough indication of the operators roll-out plan for this skeleton core network. VXFIBRE will then build their own open-access network, based upon that core.

Richard Watts, UK Sales and Marketing Director for VX Fiber, said:

“We are delighted that Colchester has received this award from DCMS as this shows yet another prime example of how local authorities can play a vital role in the delivery of digital transformation across their communities. We are pleased to be working in collaboration with CBC and looking forward to inviting Service Providers to the Open Access Network.”

The full network build is expected to take up to 5 years to complete. The first phase of installation work, to be managed by Amphora, will begin in the town centre, Greenstead and north Colchester this month. Deployment to other parts of urban Colchester will start later in 2020, with the skeleton network completed by May 2021. New customers will be able to sign-up for services from September 2020.

Meanwhile we should remind readers that VX will not be selling directly to end users. Instead they function as a wholesale operator and, if their work is anything like Stoke, then VX’s subsidiary, LilaConnect will market, sell, install and maintain FTTP connections from their infrastructure to homes and businesses. LilaConnect does not itself offer any services – just the connections to the network – and they have a number of ISPs on their platform (e.g. Air Broadband, Bridge Fibre, Pure Broadband and Vonage).

The more rural parts of the borough will of course continue to be tackled via the wider state aid supported Superfast Essex (SFE) project, which has on-going contracts with Openreach (BT), Gigaclear and County Broadband. Meanwhile VXFIBRE will not have Colchester all to itself because Virgin Media’s soon-to-be 1Gbps capable network is already present across most of the town. Openreach and OFLN also have a few small FTTP deployments.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar joe says:

    5 years for such a ‘small’ project!

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      You could argue that may be more realistic of a time-scale than some of the other altnets are giving for similar sized projects, although it does seem c.2 years too long. On the other hand saying “up to” gives a lot of leeway for impacts like COVID-19 etc.

    2. Avatar CJ says:

      If they really take 5 years, they will surely be overtaken by openreach. Plans for G.fast were announced but not built, so a fibre first rollout is a real possibility.

      Something don’t add up with the numbers either. If they can get 25,000 premises connected for £10m that’s only £400 per home connected. At 40% take-up that’s only £160 per home passed.

      I suspect the real plan is to cover only the urban and suburban areas with that £10m, with an ’ambition’ to extend the network out to the rest of the borough in due course.

  2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    The history of projects where the councils dabble in anything beyond awarding the contracts is not great – Digital Region, Aylesbury Vale etc spring to mind. I’d recommend watching this closely in case it goes off track. And I’d be very nervous if I was a local council tax payer!

  3. Avatar The Facts says:

    ‘Green lights’ ???

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