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ISP Airband Fast Tracks Full Fibre Rollout in Herefordshire UK UPDATE

Monday, July 27th, 2020 (12:16 pm) - Score 909
airband fastershire fttp herefordshire uk broadband

Worcestershire-based broadband ISP Airband has said they’re now “fast-tracking” their state aid supported fibre roll-out in Herefordshire (England) under the Fastershire contract, which means that “hundreds more homes” will soon gain access to their “ultrafast broadband” (100Mbps+) network.

At present over 92% of premises in Herefordshire can access a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) network and the Fastershire project originally hoped to push this to over 96% by the end of 2020, although it remains to be seen whether or not that can be achieved. The project currently has various related delivery contracts with Openreach (BT), Gigaclear and Airband, but some of those have been hit by delays.

The contract with Airband is the smallest one (here) and involves a deployment of their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology in order “provide access to 10 dispersed clusters of premises spread across the county” (around 4,500 rural homes and businesses). This is being conducted by the provider’s civil engineering arm – Rural Optic (RO).

Work to build the new network finally got underway in April last year (here) and the roll-out was scheduled to be complete by the end of Q3 2020. Airband’s Marches manager, Chris Penkoks, today said that ultrafast connectivity to the large area stretching from Canon Frome in the north to Preston Cross in the south, and from Stoke Edith in the west to Waller’s Green in the north, was a priority and should be live by September 2020.

Chris Penkoks, Airband’s Marches Manager, said:

“Some of our previous projects in this area have been delayed by contractor issues so we wanted to focus on getting this area up to speed. We are now primarily using Rural Optic – Airband’s civil engineering arm – with other contractors on standby to make sure we hit build deadlines and provide ultrafast connectivity to these areas as soon as possible.

Right now, we’re building fibre networks in and around Much Marcle – from Much Marcle garage up past Westons Cider factory and along Lyne Down Lane. We will be working back from the garage along the A449 back to a cabinet that we will be installing on the A4172, near Newbridge Farm Park.

As of June 15, we had laid a total of 2275m of direct buried cable in this cluster. We remain on track to complete all of the works and test the network by mid-August and we are looking to get the whole cluster connected and live by the end of September 2020.”

Considering that the contract was originally due to complete by the end of Q3 2020, then we’re not entirely sure where the reference to “fast-tracking” in their press release fits in to all this. Airband has confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that the whole contract will indeed complete in Q3 2020 as planned.

The press release also confusingly talks about “hundreds more homes in Herefordshire [gaining] access to ultrafast fibre broadband by September“, but it isn’t immediately clear whether they mean additional (i.e. beyond the original contract) or are just referencing a generalisation of progress under the current contract. We’ve assumed the latter.

As if to add further confusion, Councillor Ellie Chowns, said: “It’s great news that the Fastershire and Airband are rollout is extending coverage in the county by to another 4000 homes and businesses.” Wait.. so, is that another 4000, on top of the original 4000+, or are they just re-announcing the original contract? We’ve asked Airband to clarify the conflicting language and await their feedback.

Airband is separately being supported by an investment of £16m via the National Digital Infrastructure Fund (here), as well as another £25m if you combine all of their state aid / BDUK contracts. Overall, the operator hopes to bring superfast broadband to a further 50,000 premises across the whole of England and Wales by 2021.

UPDATE 1:40pm

According to Airband, the contract for all 10 clusters will actually now be completed by July 2021 (the above update references their progress on just the contract for LOT H9). Just to put that in context, Airband originally secured contracts under Fastershire for Lots S15, S16, T1, H12, H8, H9, H1, H22 and H2 (valued at a total of c.£5m) – decision. An additional £1.5m also went to them for H21 and H18.

Once all 10 clusters are finished in July 2021, the ISP calculates that they will be providing ultrafast connectivity to 25,255 premises in Herefordshire alone (we assume this includes their commercial roll-out as we haven’t seen that figure being mentioned before). As a result, we’d also expect them to end up with a fair bit more than 50,000 premises passed across the UK by 2021 (mix of fibre and wireless networks).

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