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Project Stratum’s N.Ireland FTTP Rollout Adds Another 8500 Premises UPDATE

Monday, January 17th, 2022 (3:01 pm) - Score 1,008
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The £165m state aid supported Project Stratum scheme in Northern Ireland, which is working with UK ISP Fibrus to spread a gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network into rural areas, has just re-announced a network expansion that will add another 8,500 premises to the coverage and a big rollout delay.

The original contract aimed to cover a little over 76,000 premises by December 2023, but in August last year it was announced that this would be extended (here) – using £25m from the UK Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme – to reach an additional 8,500 premises (i.e. covering a total of around 84,500 by March 2024).

NOTE: Fibrus’ build under Project Stratum had managed to hit 15,000 premises passed by late November 2021 and today’s update puts that figure at 22,000, which suggests that the build is still ramping-up.

However, the N.I Department for the Economy (DfE) has today announced that £32m will be committed to reach yet another 8,500 premises in predominantly rural areas of Northern Ireland, which includes 2,500 harder-to-reach properties that “were out of scope of the original contract“, plus a further 6,000 premises.

The catch is that this will extend the completion date for the contract too, with Fibrus now being “expected to complete full deployment by March 2025” (a full year later than the previous extension target).

Gordon Lyons, Minister for the Economy, said:

“This marks the culmination of an extensive process that confirms additional funding allocations for this transformational project by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, along with vital contributions from my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Total additional public funding of £32 million will be utilised to extend gigabit capable broadband coverage to reach an additional 8,500 homes and businesses in predominantly rural areas of Northern Ireland. The additional premises include 2,500 harder-to-reach properties that were out of scope of the original contract, plus a further 6,000 premises.”

Conor Harrison, Fibrus’ Chief Operations Officer, said:

“We are very proud to be involved in Project Stratum, as it is transforming people’s lives every day. The additional funding allows more of the most remote properties to get access to a service that every household needs to stay connected in a modern society.

What we are delivering is the most important infrastructure project of a generation, and at Fibrus we thrive on the impact it is having on rural people, families, and local businesses. By the end of 2025 our hope is that every property has access to proper fibre infrastructure, and we intend to play our part in making this a reality.”

In terms of funding, the DfE states that £22m of the capital funding necessary to extend broadband coverage to reach the additional premises has been allocated by the UK Government (Project Gigabit again), with both DfE and DAERA each providing additional capital funding of £4.85m. On top of that, Fibrus is also contributing to increased network build costs in order to reach the £32m total.

However, there is one element of confusion in the announcement, which stems from where it states that the “total number of premises to benefit from this … will be c.85,000, all of which will have access to gigabit-cable broadband as deployment of new infrastructure continues.” Except, that was the same total expected from their previous extension of 8,500, which leaves us confused as to why the new total is not more like 93,000+.

It’s possible that the increased reach of rival commercial deployments may have further reduced the previous coverage commitment. Alternatively, the DfE could simply be re-announcing the same extension, but then the funding levels and timescale this time are very different. We have contacted the DfE for clarification.

UPDATE 18th Jan 2022

The DfE has now clarified that the 8,500 extension being announced above is in fact the finalisation (or re-announcement) of the one they first unveiled in August 2021, albeit seemingly with a significant deployment delay being attached.

A Spokesperson for the Department for the Economy said:

“The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) announcement made in August 2021 was in relation to its intention to allocate public funding to this exercise, which the Department welcomed. The funding allocation from DCMS amounts to 70% of the final funding requirement, under terms agreed with BDUK, with the Department for the Economy (DfE) and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) allocating the remaining 30%.

The announcement by the Department details the contribution by DfE/DAERA and is the culmination of the governance and approvals process, including State aid Assurance provided by BDUK, and represents the formalisation of the process to bring the additional 8,500 eligible ‘white’ premises into scope, utilising further funding of £32m. Project Stratum will therefore provide 85,000 premises in predominantly rural areas of Northern Ireland with access to gigabit capable broadband under the revised plans.”

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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
9 Responses
  1. Bucklez says:

    Fibrus are awful – before you go near look up the Facebook group, its down more than its up

    1. McNugget365 says:

      In fairness the negative posts on the FB group have gotten a bit less frequent and seem to be more people complaining about the awful wifi signal from the router than anything else. There are even a few people posting about how good the service is compared to their previous internet. T
      hey definitely need to be better as any downtime (especially when it is for a number of days) is no good.
      Be interesting to see what people are posting in 12 months time. I’m sure if people looked at the BT forums or sky forums it would be full of people complaining too…

  2. John says:

    Shame it’s not helping everyone it should.

    I recently moved from a semi detached house in a small town with 80Mbps FTTC connection who did get FTTP via Fibrus to a detached home outside the town with a stay fast guarantee 1Mbps which is not going to get help. The USO says the property can get 4G broadband of 16Mbps from Vodafone so no help from that either.

  3. Ken Lee says:

    Will the actual fibre lines always be “Fibrus” as in you will only ever be able to subscribe to fibrus from them. Or will they eventually revert to open market where you will be able to choose who your provider is? If it’s always going to be fibrus only, why on earth are the government funding a monopoly?

    1. McNugget365 says:

      I’ve heard from a few people who work for fibrus that the plan is to wholesale the product, local politician told me the same too when i asked him about it. Not sure when anything will happen though.

    2. Matt says:

      The hyperfast NI web site already has some info for Wholesale customers so it appears to be an option already.

    3. Ken Lee says:

      That’s great news then. Competition obviously helps prices/services!

    4. Matt says:

      What will be interesting is if wholesale access for other ISP’s will apply to their entire network or just the parts covered by Stratum. Because if it’s just the Stratum parts its hard to see how anyone could make much of a go at it.

    5. - says:

      It’s another non offering. Wholesale 1G resi price £55+Vat. Retail price £59.99 inc vat… so retail price is less than the wholesale price. Bit like Gigaclear.

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