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CityFibre Ponders Full Fibre Rollout to 10 Million UK Premises

Monday, May 24th, 2021 (8:17 am) - Score 10,032
CityFibre ODF in Fibre Exchange

Broadband builder CityFibre is reportedly said to be considering an expansion of their existing rollout plan, which currently aims to cover 8 million UK premises with their gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) ISP network. But this could be expanded to 10 million, provided they can secure the necessary fund and contracts.

At present the operator’s £4bn commercial deployment aims to cover 1 million UK premises with their alternative FTTP network by the end of 2021 (over 650,000 have already been reached) and then 8 million premises across 285 cities, towns and villages – c.30% of the UK (here). The latter target is expected to be “substantially completed” by the end of 2025.

Back in early March we also reported that CityFibre were in the process of trying to sell a significant minority stake (potentially worth as much as £1bn) to a third potential backer alongside their existing investors (here) – the West Street Infrastructure Fund (Goldman Sachs) and Antin Infrastructure Fund. Each hold a 35% stake in the business.

According to The Mail on Sunday and CityFibre’s CEO, Greg Mesch, the operator is now in talks with 20 pension and infrastructure funds from the UK, North America, Europe and Australia, which could result in the sale of a 30% stake. By going public with this detail the operator may be attempting to encourage some competition between the interested parties.

The additional funding, if secured, would help to fuel both their existing deployment plan and enable them to compete for rural deployment contracts under the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme, which is an area that they’ve already trialled (here). Assuming they were to succeed in securing some of those contracts’ then their rollout target could potentially be lifted to 10 million premises.

Greg Mesch said:

“We’re going faster than we ever have … We were able to build quicker because the pandemic had everybody off the roads – or at least out of the way. And unlike BT and unlike Virgin, we didn’t stop. We remobilised, we recommitted, we went stronger.”

In fairness, the comment about BT and Virgin Media having stopped their build is not entirely correct. While Virgin Media’s deployment did slow a bit during the lockdowns, it clearly did not grind to a complete halt for those periods (here). Likewise, Openreach still achieved their build target of 4.5 million premises passed by the end of March 2021, which was set before the pandemic began.

We should point out that almost all contractors did initially suffer some disruption in March – April 2021 last year as the first lockdown, when combined with uncertainty over the rules, put pressure on the complex supply chains involved. But solutions were soon found, which enabled the builds to ramp up again and, as Greg suggests above, to find some benefit (less disruption on the roads etc.).

Moving on. One other thing to keep in mind is that CityFibre won’t be the only bidder on contracts for Project Gigabit. Virgin Media and merger partner O2 have a desire to grow their network to another 7 million premises via FTTP, while Openreach (BT) will of course share a similar interest. Not to mention the mass of rural focused alternative networks (altnet) ISPs that now exist (Summary of Full Fibre Build Progress).

Suffice to say that there should be much more competition for the Government’s programme than we’ve seen in the past, but it’s too early to say who will scoop up the most. But even without that, CityFibre are currently still on course to build themselves into becoming the UK’s third major network operator.

Finally, we shouldn’t forget that the BT Group (Openreach) are also exploring the possibility of establishing a “joint venture with external parties” to help them fund and deploy FTTP broadband to another 5 million premises, which forms part of their target to reach 25 million by December 2026 (here).

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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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24 Responses
  1. CarlT says:

    Extreme fibre to the press release going on in the UK now. It’s one thing to be building, another to declare build plans and a whole other level to say you’re considering a build plan.

    On that note I’d like to announce I’m considering building point to point 100 Gbit Ethernet to my local area. Scope to be confirmed awaiting funding though potentially almost 100 premises, taking my FTTP coverage past CityFibre’s in Wakefield.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      True, although CityFibre have now developed somewhat of a tendency to turn their aspirations into real-world delivery.

    2. CarlT says:

      My concern is how long it’s going to take them to actually deliver even if they start immediately.

      Their target for the end of the year requires 50k premises passed per month if not fewer, as I’m only going by the 650k with 350k to complete in the 7 months remaining in 2021.

      They likely have more than 650k as of now.

      At that rate the remaining 7 million already mentioned will take 140 months. 11 years, 8 months, meaning completion of that current target around summer of 2033.

      Another 2 million on top is another 40 months leaving 15 years of build at current rate.

      I presume they hope that after Openreach have covered 25 million by 2026 they’ll have access to more civil engineering resource, and that they’ll be able to make extensive use of PIA with the assets that Openreach have newly verified and renewed for their own build.

      They also hope I guess that Liberty Global / O2 and other alternative networks don’t outbid them for the civils resources and in turn consume available passive Openreach infrastructure.

      Be interesting to see the trajectory of their ramping up and whether they can sustain it. It’s challenging, and seems very, very early to be making plans for the 8-10 million stage.

      Of course, they know far more about what they have available and the preparations they’ve made than I do. If they were very selective about the areas they cover they could pick up the pace somewhat, though how that’d go down with people I’m not sure. People are used to them spending insane amounts reaching some properties and offsetting, or trying to, with easier ones, much as VM did early on in Lightning.

    3. AnotherTim says:

      Carl, can I register interest in your 100GB network for when you extend it to my area? I am registered with some other ISPs too (e.g. Giogaclear who have the BDUK contract for my area), but I think your network may well get here first!

    4. Mark Jackson says:

      Back in 2019 they seemed to be targeting a peak build of 120,000 premises every month (1.44m per year), which might be possible if they can find enough contractors to start building in most of their target areas (we’re still a fair way from that today). But obviously lots of other operators are seeking to pick from the same skills pool.

      But of course we don’t yet know precisely when they’ll actually hit 8 million premises (the language of ‘substantially completed’ is fairly ambiguous), let alone 10 million.

    5. A_Builder says:

      I’d also say that ATM labour and materials are a problem.

      So don’t be too surprised if rollout rates drop for a few months while this sorts itself out.

      A lot of people exited hospitality and went to construction as a safe haven during lockdown and have now headed back.

      Materials inflation is a big issue with steel +40% and timber following closely. The market for steel and cement is being manipulated and frankly always has been rigged.

      How do we sign up for CarlT’s FTTPr network?

  2. AnotherTim says:

    If all these FTTP plans come to fruition, then I fear that we are going to have a very uneven availability across the country – with a large number of premises with a choice of multiple gigabit services from BT/VM/CityFibre, and the remainder with a choice of ADSL/4G/Satellite.
    As none of the companies plan 100% coverage of an area (CityFibre claim to target 85%), there will be a growing number of very small and ever more uneconomic to target areas without superfast broadband.

    1. CarlT says:

      Yes, we’ll have uneven availability. This is for obvious reasons and normal. The majority of the country will have 2 gigabit options, a smaller area including a bunch of market towns and villages as well as major urban areas will have more, some urban areas and almost everywhere else will have one.

      Some isolated areas will have none for a time. Piece of string how long it is before this changes or what their alternative options are.

      This is a discussion that’s been had a bunch of times before. I moved to a new build just in time for the previous place to have three gigabit options while this one is extremely unlikely to ever have more than one.

      Always, rightly, be uneven. I am more interested in what the baseline ends up being.

      95%+ FTTP is a good start. 98-99% is where I would hope we can get to in a decade or so.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      I don’t believe we’ll ever get close to 98% for FTTP. We aren’t there yet for superfast, and we’re not even trying to close the gap any more. Government will just wait to see what the market can achieve, and then eventually declare the remainder as uneconomic.
      The ISPs will at some point stop building (before we get to 98%) and try to make a profit.

    3. GNewton says:

      @CarlT: “while this one is extremely unlikely to ever have more than one.”

      Well, you can always start another campaign to get more fibre broadband options in your new location 🙂

    4. Aled says:

      At some point the copper will fail, then it’s a choice between new copper or FTTP.

      It’s just a practicality, that most sites need half a day each, while others could need 2-5 days or more for installation.

      I personally think for rural areas, local community needs to dig their own trenches/ducts/poles as far as possible. Why pay 3 lads with a van and a digger to cover a 1-2km route?

    5. CarlT says:

      Who says I haven’t been busy, @GNewton?

      Some of us, if unhappy or even just desiring better, do more constructive things than repeating the same whinging online ad nauseam and demanding the taxpayer step in. 🙂

      There was an attempt at points scoring that went badly.

      While you whinge, I engage and pull strings. That’s why my old address is so well connected and why I’ve already explored options for the entire city, not just this estate, and while I’m not optimistic for us I am that Wakefield as a whole will have a competitive market.

      Burn bridges or walk over them. Or ignore them entirely and just be entitled. Your call.

    6. GNewton says:

      @CarlT: You still don’t comprehend the irony of the situation for consumers here in this primitive country, do you? People have better things to do than begging or campaigning for telecoms to do their job. It is sad enough when basic utilities and infrastructures can’t be sorted out here.

    7. CarlT says:

      But evidently not better things to do than come on here complaining about this ‘backwards country’.

      Your sense of entitlement borders on ludicrous.

      Writing an email to a couple of appropriate people takes roughly the length of time your stock whinge on here does.

      A nice try but I’m afraid you score the same as this backwards country did last weekend.

      Good night!

      (This written via the 2.1 Gbit goodput down, 270 Mbit goodput up my home network has access to.)

      BTW: over half the country will have access to gigabit before the end of the year, the bulk access to full FTTP by 2025.

      But do carry on tantruming on your back, demanding the taxpayer magic up ubiquitous coverage.

  3. Stephen Jordan says:

    I don’t believe what city fibre get away with ,they are a law to themselves, totally inadequate signing and guarding there work sites, and blocking off driveways and side streets without notice. If OPENREACH tried it they would be hit with massive fines

    1. Jon says:

      Have you spoken to them, or to the foreman on site?

      CityFibre contract all this work to local companies, so whilst there have been issues in some areas, on the whole they’ve been pretty good.

      In our area it’s all been very tidy and well organised, at least as much as it can be considering what they’re doing. Indeed the gas and water companies have regularly left a far worse mess!

    2. A_Builder says:

      There is a balance with every LA wanting the economic boost of FTTP – given lockdown FTTP is now high on the agenda – blocking FTTP deployment is seen as a sure vote looser.

      So the LAs are not down like a ton of bricks on every tiny infraction as if they are too difficult the the network providers will just go elsewhere.

      That being said the LAs don’t want to be left with a restatement mess and maintenance nightmare/bill so if you find out who the officer is who signs off the street works and send them pics and descriptors of problems and copy in the relevant councillors then I suspect they will do something proactive.

  4. Machinist says:

    @Stephen Jordan Just Stop complaining and be happy what they do. Otherwise stay with slowest internet forever.

  5. FibreAddict says:

    Don’t hold your breath, my street was done back in October 2020, we are still waiting for Cityfibre to get some ISPs on board to activate the service

  6. Stuart says:

    These announcements are all well and good, and people are right to query how long it takes from announcement to pavements actually being dug up.

    What you also need to factor in is the delay from the pavement being dug up to a service being offered for connection. CityFibre dug up all the pavements around my area over 12 months ago and we’ve still not a clue when it’s going to be available to order through ISPs.

    So do factor in at least 12 months (and counting) between the engineering works and the service actually being available to order.

  7. Zak says:

    @Stuart and @FibreAddict are you in Phase 1 build locations or Phase 2?

    https://www.cityfibre.com/rollout/

    1. FibreAddict says:

      Phase 1 (Derby)

      Work started in April 2020 in my area for example and we are all still waiting

    2. Zak says:

      @FibreAddict

      Try getting in touch with either Vodafone or Zen Internet and ask when they’ll be bringing their services to Derby. They’re quite eager on people signing up to their CityFibre plans so would definitely be worth contacting them.

  8. Mark says:

    The articles I’ve been reading suggest copper will be completely retired by 2036, so Fttp will have to be pretty much everywhere surely.

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