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New UK ISP Digital Infrastructure to Rollout Full Fibre in Crewe UPDATE

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021 (9:34 am) - Score 1,488
Digital Infrastructure Engineer up Pole

A new UK network operator with the imaginative title of Digital Infrastructure (DI) has today announced that they’ve partnered with Aberla Utilities as part of a 5-year contract to deliver Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband across around 38,000 homes in the Cheshire town of Crewe. But they’ll face more than a little competition.

The operator first cropped up at the end of last year (here), although at the time we were told that they intended to deploy more of a wholesale network for other ISPs to harness and would focus on “areas currently not served by such networks” (mostly around selected urban and suburban locations). By the sounds of it, this wholesale model is still in place, although we don’t yet know which ISPs will supply it to UK consumers.

The biggest problem for DI will be that the town they’ve selected for their first build of a gigabit-capable broadband network, Crewe, is already being built across by rival operators including VX Fiber (here) and Zzoomm (here). The ITS Technology group has also deployed some of their own fibre in the town, although the latter is almost entirely focused upon the local business park and does not appear to serve local homes.

NOTE: DI are harnessing some existing spine infrastructure from ITS and others.

On top of that, Crewe is home to a lot of Openreach’s slower and now largely abandoned hybrid fibre G.fast technology. Suffice to say that we’re not sure about the viability of a third gigabit operator serving homes in a town of this size, which carries a fair bit of risk for a start-up. Much may thus depend upon how fast DI can build, since all the projects in the town are very new, but we’ll come back to that.

Charlie Ruddy, CEO of Digital Infrastructure, said:

“We’re really excited to be working with Aberla as part of this contract, it’s the beginning of a strong relationship and I’ve been impressed with their ingenuity and commitment.”

Paul McCarren, Aberla’s CEO, said:

“As the telecoms sector grows rapidly, we are happy to provide solutions for everyone across the UK and in this instance, Crewe. We are delighted to be working with the likes of Digital Infrastructure to further implement FTTP.”

In terms of the local rollout, which is known to be running some of its fibre through Openreach’s existing ducts (PIA). The first stages of the project commenced mid-June 2021, which focused on surveying and rod and roping. This will be followed by cabling and testing over the coming months.

After this process has been completed, the project will then be handed back over to DI by Aberla. Sadly, we have not been given any indication of how long this rollout will take, but we understand that much of their investment is being supported by Basalt (a figure of £200m is mentioned on their website).

As a side note, we’re not big fans of the trend where operators adopt common industry phrases for company names, albeit primarily because it can make writing some sentences quite comically tedious :).

UPDATE 9:56am

After a bit of digging, we discovered that the operator is also building across parts of Boston (Lincolnshire) and Brentwood (Essex). Various other FTTP operators, such as Openreach and Lightspeed Broadband, are also building in these towns. A skim of their LinkedIn page also adds this: “We’re aiming to connect full fibre broadband to 84 cities across the UK … that’s 1 million homes.”

UPDATE 28th July 2021

DI informs us that their consumer ISP for all this will be called Be Fibre and is due to launch in September 2021. Brentwood is also said to be their first hub, and they’ve already deployed to around 9,500 premises since March 2021.

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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.
Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. James says:

    I feel that these altnets should really focus on areas where there is no other competition for larger take up.

    1. Jono says:

      Would make more sense

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      Easier said than done. It takes a long time to plan for these things and, in the current climate, by the time you’re able to confirm that plan then another operator has often stepped in to do the same. Crewe is a case in point, since until very recently there were no FTTP plans for the town.

      Just look at the impact of Openreach’s recent FTTP expansion, it’s very hard to plan for such rapid market change. You start off by targeting areas where FTTP is not being built, but nobody can see whether it will stay that way. In a competitive market you can’t just abandon your plans when rivals come calling, otherwise you shouldn’t be in it.

  2. Dave says:

    That may be the case Mark, but you don’t need to travel far outside of Crewe to come across some rural areas which have nothing now and are unlikely to be scoped in the near future. This is where the focus should be.
    The whole ‘those that have, get more’ needs to be challenged. It’s no doubt great for the people of Crewe who will have more choice and options, but give the people who have nothing a chance for at least one ISP who can provide FTTP in the near future or at least take a vested interest in those areas.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Rural areas are last for a reason, because for any given area there are disproportionately fewer potential customers, and they’re spread out over a much wider area. The result is an easily understood, but difficult to overcome, economic roadblock for private investment (i.e. it costs significantly more for you to reach fewer premises). Wayleaves across lots of different landowners can also be a nightmare.

      This is why so few ISPs have built models to tackle rural areas, because it’s inherently difficult to make such models viable. By comparison, you only need to convert a smaller portion of an urban area in order to make a viable commercial model for a smaller network build. So yes, you can do rural, as providers like B4RN and Gigaclear show, but it takes a long time and is not a smooth ride – it’s not viable for everybody.

      We do of course have the £5bn Project Gigabit programme now and the related gigabit voucher scheme, both of which are highly rural centric, which should help. But there are some very real economic challenges here that can’t be solved by good intentions alone. At the end of the day, money talks, and investors in private projects like to put their money into projects with a lower risk profile.

  3. Mark says:

    It’s very telling that private operators are competing in the urban areas at the same time that the publicly-funded ConnectingCheshire consortium have taken the “latest news” link off their website homepage. One post in the past two years. Lots of self-congratulations when the Airband contract was announced over six months ago, with coverage details to follow “in the coming weeks”. Not surprisingly, we are still waiting for the details…

  4. Andy says:

    DI were outside my house yesterday, in Brentwood, installing FTTP equipment. Very friendly and efficient team! They had the new equipment installed and connected in no time.

    Openreach recently installed FTTP equipment, but the pole which serves my property was “too costly” to connect (only pole on my street which didn’t get FTTP). I told the DI team about this and they told me that this wasn’t correct, the openreach cabling was connected/live and there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to get it now.

    I’m very thankful that they are competing with openreach, I think the competition is helpful!

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