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Doubts Cast Over CityFibre’s 1 Million UK FTTP Premises Claim

Thursday, November 11th, 2021 (8:17 am) - Score 4,752
CF cityfibre Cab Chamber photo

Analysis by Thinkbroadband (TBB), which maintains an independent database of broadband network coverage, has called into question CityFibre’s recent claim to have covered 1 million UK premises with their new gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP network.

The figure was announced earlier this month (here) and is important because it represented the completion of their first major full fibre coverage target, which ever since it was set in 2018 had been due to be “largely complete” by the end of 2021 (here). In addition, the operator was adamant that this represented Ready For Service (RFS) premises (i.e. a live service that customers can order and get installed).

The initial goal formed part of CityFibre’s wider £4bn deployment programme, which eventually aims to have 8 million premises “substantially completed” – across 285 cities, towns and villages (c.30% of the UK) – by the end of 2025 (here). This will also include coverage for around an estimated 800,000 businesses, 400,000 public sector sites and 250,000 5G access points.

However, after doing another pass over CityFibre’s deployment areas, Andrew at TBB was only able to find around 700,000 premises that could be considered RFS. Now admittedly, the work that TBB does is laborious and they don’t always catch everything right away (they often lag a bit behind official announcements), but a gap of 300,000 premises is an abnormally huge margin of error even for them.

The industry speculation was that CityFibre might have included some “going live soon” (i.e. not all RFS) premises. Just to be clear here, CF are starting to build at a very impressive pace and that is NOT in any doubt, although in many areas they do tend to wait until decent coverage has been achieved before putting the new network live. By adding ‘built but not live‘ premises they could easily hit 1 million.

A spokesperson for CityFibre previously informed ISPreview.co.uk that they were “100% certain of the figure as the RFS count” and suggested it may be down to TBB’s analysis. This prompted Andrew to take a closer look, and he did find some new areas, but the aforementioned gap was where that ended up.

On top of that TBB noted that some of the premises that were last week mapped as “live” by ISPs, such as iDNET and Vodafone, have this week returned to the tentative “Full Fibre is almost here!” status on related availability checkers. At present this only accounts for around 4,000 premises and so doesn’t impact the overall picture much, but it does create further confusion.

John Franklin, CTIO at CityFibre, said:

“As announced last week, our ‘Ready For Service’ network footprint has now comfortably exceeded 1 million homes. As a wholesaler, this entire footprint is now live and available to our retail partners to market and serve customers.

Because we are continually signing and on-boarding new retail partners however, some areas are only now starting to appear in their availability checkers. We believe this is the prime reason for any discrepancy found with thinkbroadband’s data.

As loyal readers of thinkbroadband and users of its data, we are working closely with them to provide full visibility of our network’s reach and status. We are not only confident of our progress but proud, and we look forward to playing an ever larger part in the drive for nationwide Full Fibre coverage.”

On balance of probability, and with respect to their long history of independent work on this subject, then we’d perhaps sooner trust TBB’s data over CityFibre’s. If the margin of error was more like c.100,000 then this wouldn’t be such a concern as that would be more understandable due to processing and admin delays etc. But a gap of c.300,000 is harder to ignore.

However, if the issue does indeed stem from delays in live areas being reflected by ISP availability checkers, then TBB should be able to spot a sharp coverage increase over the next month or two. But none of this should distract from the excellent work on network build that continues to be done by CityFibre, which has raised the competitive pressures for incumbent operators and helped to push the market into the full fibre age.

Andrew Ferguson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“While tbb has found just 700,000 premises to date, this is growing as shown by the change in the last 7 days. So we expect to get closer to the million as we head towards Christmas, and the gap between our data and CityFibre internal figures will narrow.”

Even a figure of 700,000 premises passed is still a remarkable achievement, given that the build phase on all this is still relatively young and mostly involves individual housing rather than MDUs etc.

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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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23 Responses
  1. Alex says:

    Fibre to the press release. Predictable.

    1. kuro68k says:

      They put leaflets through our door but I still can’t sign up.

  2. Jason Turner says:

    Just perplexed as to why CityFibre would put out such a public statement if it weren’t true … they are not floated so no shareholders to pacify. Any thoughts out there?

    1. Lister says:

      Errors and mistakes do happen.

    2. Anthony Goodman says:

      More like they made the promise repeatedly to shareholders and the media and don’t want to appear inept.

    3. A_Builder says:

      Then that would be market manipulation: if true.

      Which is actually quite serious.

      If you misreport your sales and/or asset base by 30% the regulators would take a pretty dim view of that.

    4. Mark Jackson says:

      In this case the suggestion is that the network in a lot of areas is live, but strictly speaking TBB is right too because you can’t order it yet in all of those areas due to the ISPs lagging behind in their database updates. In other areas, there may not even be an ISP assigned yet.

      Overall, this is a useful bit of learning and helps to show the complexities of network coverage and activation for operators with Cityfibre’s model.

  3. Anthony Goodman says:

    It was obvious it was a lie. I posted on this sites story and thinkbroadbands that Newcastle was one of their main phase 1 projects and yet in all of 2021 not a single new property has went live according to Thinkbroadbands map. The west end all went live in late 2020 and all throughout 2021 they’ve been building in the east end and central of Newcastle yet not a single new live property. Other people said the same about their phase 1 cities too.

    1. Connor Graham says:

      I’m in Wolverhampton which is also a phase 1 city and I can also confirm despite seeing them laying fibre round my area a few years ago and seeing them lay fibre directly outside a friend’s flat last year the only progress I’ve seen is Three masts (CityFibre is a preferred supplier of Three) suddenly getting a lot more bandwidth.

      I assume it’s gonna go live all at once but according to their website Wolverhampton is still in planning stage despite fibre already being laid for years and seemingly has their wires crossed when Vodafone contacted me to let me know it would go live back in September which it never did.

  4. Confused says:

    The TBB data looks very incomplete for CityFibre…

    Have they explained all of the cites missing off their map for CityFibre? e.g Solihull and others live with Air Broadband? They announced 10 new cities in June most of which I am not seeing any homes live on the TBB map, but a quick check on Air Broadband shows they can offer service!

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Point them out to Andrew at TBB with postcode examples.

    2. Air Broadband says:

      We get RFS data from CityFibre and this is accurate in our experience. There are areas where we are about to go live for which CityFibre have many thousands of RFS premises already – but no ISP to actually deliver!
      TBB use a mix of sources to determine areas and as some of that relies on speed tests etc it has to wait for live connections to show up, which is bound to lag

    3. occasionally factual says:

      “but no ISP to actually deliver!”

      So if there is no ISP able to service a connection then it isn’t ready to order and shouldn’t appear in the count.

    4. Andrew Ferguson says:

      Will look at Solihull but its a big area so easy to miss, so hints are welcome.

      If CityFibre site is not showing an ISP or multiple ISP we won’t add it, no matter what the retailers sites say

    5. Confused says:

      Andrew – B90 4UF was the random postcode I picked for Solihull, knowing CF had finished work around that area.

    6. Andrew Ferguson says:

      Found and added some solihul last night and map updated.

  5. CityFibreLeeds says:

    CityFibre finished my area in September and I’ve been able to order for about 2 weeks now with Vodafone (waiting for BlackFriday Deals) and my postcode and all the surrounding live ones aren’t on TBB’s map either so more likely their error.

    1. Andrew Ferguson says:

      Leeds is a big place, so a hint of the area will help get it updated.

      NOTE: We normally expect a lag of 6 to 8 weeks due to the cycle around everything that is going on.

  6. Paul Shawcross says:

    My postcode in Derby says not yet planned on the CityFibre website. Airbroadband says available and I’ve actually had it installed on Zen. Even the nearby postcodes seem to chop and change with which ISP can supply on the CF website.

    1. Andrew Ferguson says:

      The CityFibre website is the driver – since with multiple retailers it would make things even more intensive. So if you are seeing issues with variations between retailers and CityFibre site I’d be interested in knowing the postcode, so can see what we’ve got and push over to CityFibre.

    2. Paul Shawcross says:

      Hi Andrew,

      My Postcode is DE723UX. I’d spoken to the CF City Manager about this previously and it did seem to be rectified for a short time. I do currently have a service installed from Zen so was wondering if this sort of thing relates to this specific article.

    3. Andrew Ferguson says:

      Am guessing that was your speed test I saw earlier today

      Will raise with CityFIbre in morning, your situation could mean I am not seeing a good number even though they have insisted the CityFibre checker will be better than the ISP

  7. Neil Reeve says:

    I’m in Southend-on-Sea and CityFibre buried cables 18 months ago in my road. The ends of the purple cables are still hanging from phone poles and despite several enquiries I still have not had a reply from CityFibre or my local council as to why I cannot sign up to the service yet. Will it ever happen?

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