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Winter 2023 Update on Project Gigabit UK Broadband Rollout

Monday, Feb 27th, 2023 (2:47 pm) - Score 6,160
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The Building Digital UK team has today published their latest quarterly Winter 2023 update on the Government’s £5bn rural Project Gigabit broadband rollout scheme, which has so far awarded six contracts – worth £164.8m – and launched 14 further procurements with a combined estimated value of £906.7m.

The project itself aims to extend networks capable of delivering 1000Mbps (1Gbps) download speeds to “at least” 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and then “nationwide” coverage (c.99%) by around 2030 (here). The funding released for this will depend upon how the industry responds. So far only £1.2bn has been released from the budget up until 2024, but more is expected to be unlocked as the industry responds.

NOTE: The project is technology neutral, thus operators can use FTTP (preferred), Hybrid Fibre Coax (DOCSIS 3.1+) or fixed wireless (e.g. 5G) to plug the gap.
Project-Gigabit-BDUK-Coverage-Forecast-Winter-2023

At present around 73% of UK premises can already access a gigabit-capable network (c.45% via just FTTP) and that’s mostly thanks to Virgin Media’s (VMO2) upgrade of their existing HFC networks (here). But it’s anticipated that commercial builds alone will push gigabit coverage up to over 80% by around the end of 2025 (mostly in urban areas), while Ofcom predicts overall gigabit coverage will hit c. 92% in March 2025 (here).

Project Gigabit is thus designed to focus on improving connectivity for those rural and semi-rural areas in the final 20% (5-6 million premises). This consists of several support schemes, including gigabit vouchers (£210m), funding to extend Dark Fibre around the public sector (£110m) and gap-funded deployments with suppliers (rest of the funding) – better known as the Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy (GIS) programme.

Today’s article is focused upon the GIS programme and related procurement work, which sees ISPs bidding through a new Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) to extend their networks across disadvantaged parts of the UK.

What’s New in the Winter 2023 Update

Since the last update, BDUK has followed their initial contract awards by signing two new contracts for Central Cornwall (Lot 32.03) and South West Cornwall (Lot 32.02) – worth a combined £36 million – with alternative network provider Wildanet (here). The rollout is expected to help upgrade more than 19,250 hard-to-reach homes and businesses in the region.

The combined value of all the contracts signed so far comes to around £164.8m in public investment and will upgrade nearly 92,950 premises (c.£1,773 per premises passed). As it stands, the total value of Project Gigabit’s procurements launched to date is around £1bn, which could see up to 730,000 extra premises being passed by a gigabit-capable network.

In the “next few months“, BDUK added that we will witness a further acceleration of the rollout of Project Gigabit, with contracts set to be awarded covering locations across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, the New Forest and Shropshire, and spades in the ground in many of the places covered by contracts signed last year.

However, so far all of this has been in England, while the devolved countries of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are still in the preparation stage. But we do get a good idea of the next steps for these areas.

Status of Devolved Countries

➤ In Wales, initial market engagement has taken place with suppliers and final intervention areas are now being developed with the aim of launching procurements by the summer.

➤ The Open Market Review for Northern Ireland launched on 8 December and closed on 27 January. The responses are currently being evaluated, with a Public Review expected to launch in April and procurement expected to start in the autumn.

➤ In Scotland, a Public Review is scheduled to launch in March, with procurements expected to follow later this year. The Public Review responses to the proposed local procurement in the Inverness area have been evaluated and assured by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and soft market testing is now underway with interested suppliers.

Elsewhere, BDUK has partnered with National Parks England, Openreach (BT) and wayleaves (land access agreements) firm Trenches Law to sign an accord which will enable efficient gigabit-capable rollout while protecting these beautiful landscapes (i.e. reducing barriers to broadband deployment in England’s 10 national parks).

Finally, BDUK has identified the first areas for inclusion into a possible Cross-Regional Supplier Framework, which are listed below (see tender). The idea of this is to appoint a supplier to target premises (i.e. subsidise the design, build and operation of a new gigabit network) in areas where no or no appropriate market interest has been expressed before, or areas that have been descoped or terminated from a prior plan.

  • North Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire (Lot 30C)
  • West and Mid-Surrey (Lot 22C)
  • Staffordshire (Lot 19C)
  • West Berkshire (Lot 13C)
  • Cornwall & Isles of Scilly (Lot 32C)
  • Hertfordshire (Lot 26C)
  • North West and Mid Wales (Lot 43C)
  • West and North Devon (Lot 6C)

Otherwise, you can see a summary of the wider contract progress below.

Live GIS Contracts (Signed)

Area Contract Awarded Uncommercial Premises Value
North Dorset (Lot 14.01) 25 August 2022 7,000 £6.3 million
Teesdale (Lot 4.01) 22 September 2022 4,000 £6.6 million
North Northumberland (Lot 34.01) 14 October 2022 3,700 £7.4 million
Cumbria (Lot 28) 29 November 2022 59,000 £108.5 million
Central Cornwall (Lot 32.02) 19 January 2023 9,750 £18 million
South West Cornwall (Lot 32.03) 19 January 2023 9,500 £18 million

Take note that, once a contract has been signed, it often takes network operators several months of engineering surveys before they can begin to start a rollout. Likewise, the detailed rollout plan for these first contracts won’t be known until those surveys have been completed. Furthermore, the contract values above are only referencing public investment, but it’s hoped that suppliers may also contribute some of their own private investment.

On top of the already agreed contracts, Project Gigabit also has a growing number of local and regional deals in the procurement phase for other parts of the UK (see below) and will be awarding contracts for these over the coming months and years. The dates and figures mentioned below are tentative estimates (subject to change) and will remain that way until after the contracts have been awarded.

Bidders on the related LOTS will be required to ensure that their networks and infrastructure are available for use by other ISPs via wholesale (open access). Various operators, both big and small (e.g. Openreach, Cityfibre, Fibrus, Gigaclear, Virgin Media [VMO2] etc.), are expected to take part and areas with sub-30Mbps speeds are being prioritised, albeit NOT to the exclusion of all else.

Alongside all this, the government and local bodies are also conducting various Public Reviews and Open Market Reviews (OMR), which is the process they use when trying to identify existing commercial coverage of gigabit-capable networks and any planned coverage over the next c.3 years. By doing that, they can more easily target their support toward areas where commercial projects will not go (i.e. the intervention area).

Live GIS Procurements

Area Est. Contract Award Date Uncommercial Premises Value
Cambridgeshire and adjacent areas (Lot 5) February 2023 49,700 £68.6 million
Norfolk (Lot 7) March 2023 86,200 £114.2 million
Suffolk (Lot 2) March 2023 87,200 £100.4 million
New Forest (Lot 27.01) January 2023 10,500 £14.5 million
Mid West Shropshire (Lot 25.01) April to June 2023 7,300 £10.8 million
North Shropshire (Lot 25.02) April to June 2023 12,200 £24 million
North East England (Lot 4) April to May 2023 53,200 £82.7 million
Hampshire (lot 27) April to June 2023 88,600 £104.2 million
Worcestershire (Lot 24) July to September 2023 18,400 £39.4 million
Buckinghamshire, (part of) Hertfordshire and East of Berkshire (Lot 26) July to September 2023 40,300 £58.8 million
Kent (Lot 29) July to September 2023 72,000 £112.3 million
West and East Sussex (Lots 16 and 1) July to September 2023 62,100 £100.6 million
South Wiltshire (Lot 30) October to December 2023 19,000 £24.8 million
Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes (Lot 12) October to December 2023 30,800 £51.4 million

Finally, BDUK has a long list of future procurements in their pipeline (see below). But some projects (e.g. Scotland and Wales) haven’t even got this far yet. The following pipeline thus represents an indicative forward view of commercial activity to be undertaken by the programme. Some of the information provided is based on modelled data that will be superseded.

Future GIS Procurements

Area Est. Contract Award Date Uncommercial Premises Value
North Oxfordshire (Lot 13.02) August to September 2023 7,500 £11.5 million
South Oxfordshire (Lot 13.01) August to September 2023 9,000 £16.6 million
Derbyshire (Lot 3) October to December 2023 18,200 £33.4 million
Leicestershire and Warwickshire (Lot 11) November 2023 to January 2024 53,500 £81.5 million
Nottinghamshire and West of Lincolnshire (Lot 10) November 2023 to January 2024 44,400 £66.1 million
West Yorkshire and York Area (Lot 8) November 2023 to January 2024 37,000 £60.3 million
South Yorkshire (Lot 20) November 2023 to January 2024 50,000 £52.7 million
Cheshire (Lot 17) January to March 2024 57,500 £58 to 115 million
Devon and Somerset (Lot 6) January to April 2024 85,800 £164.3 million
Herefordshire (Lot 15) January to March 2024 31,900 £32 to 64 million
Gloucestershire (Lot 18) January to March 2024 32,600 £33 to 65 million
Lincolnshire (including NE Lincolnshire and N Lincolnshire) and East Riding (Lot 23) January to March 2024 121,700 £122 to 244 million
Dorset (Lot 14) January to March 2024 8,700 £19.7 million
East Surrey (Lot 22.01) November 2023 2,800 £6.9 million
Essex (Lot 21) April to June 2024 87,400 £87 to 175 million
Northern North Yorkshire (Lot 31) April to June 2024 63,300 £63 to 127 million
Birmingham and the Black Country (Lot 35) April to June 2024 TBC TBC
Merseyside and Greater Manchester (Lot 36 April to June 2024 TBC TBC
Lancashire (Lot 9) April to June 2024 TBC TBC
Greater London (Lot 37) April to June 2024 TBC TBC
Newcastle and North Tyneside (Lot 38) April to June 2024 TBC TBC
East Shropshire (Lot 25) TBC TBC TBC
NOTE: Project Gigabit in England is centrally managed (by DCMS/BDUK – not local councils), while the details on how the scheme will work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still unclear.

Michelle Donelan MP, DSIT Secretary of State, said:

“This latest Building Digital UK report presents a milestone achievement, with £1 billion of Project Gigabit’s funding now available to suppliers. To have pledged such a significant sum only two years since launch is a clear signal of how far – and how fast – we have come in boosting gigabit-capable broadband across the UK.”

Sadly, another quarter has passed without BDUK launching a centralised website for clearly communicating their progress on each contract / area, which is something that we’ve previously been told was on the cards. The quarterly updates they issue are useful, but they’re simply too tedious for regular people to find and follow, unless you’re already familiar with the programme. A clean, clear and simple front-end is still needed.

At the same time, it’s still taking far too long to get all of these contracts into procurement, let alone award them. The new and more automated DPS system was supposed to make all of this faster and more efficient than just handing the funding to local authorities, but it’s difficult to see the benefits of that when so many areas have yet to enter procurement and some won’t even see contracts awarded until mid-2024 or later.

We should remind readers that this rollout is NOT an automatic upgrade, thus you will still need to order the service from a supporting ISP (1Gbps is the target speed, but slower and cheaper options will also exist). Likewise, no specific network coverage checkers will be available for areas in this programme, at least not until AFTER the contracts have been awarded and the necessary engineering surveys are completed.

The focus on “gigabit” speeds also overlooks the fact that this largely relates to download performance, while BDUK’s technical definition for the project appears to suggest that a minimum speed of 200Mbps would be acceptable, when only looking at the upstream side (here). This is understandable, as not all gigabit networks today are actually setup to deliver true symmetric gigabit speeds, even though some may advertise them.

Lest we forget that there are a lot of real-world reasons why consumers buying a 1Gbps package might not actually be able to achieve the top speed, due to certain realities (Why Buying Gigabit Broadband Doesn’t Always Deliver 1Gbps).

Finally, we should add that the Government has previously warned that those in the final 1% may still be “prohibitively expensive to reach“, although they’ve recently clarified that less than 0.3% of the country (i.e. under 100,000 premises) are likely to fall into this category (roughly the same gap that the 10Mbps USO has struggled to fill). Solutions for those in the final 0.3% of “Very Hard to Reach” areas are still being tested.

Project Gigabit Winter 2023 Update
https://www.gov.uk/../project-gigabit-delivery-plan-winter-update-2023

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo LincolnshireLeftOut says:

    Estimated contract award date = January to March 2024.

    Roll on 2026………..

    1. Avatar photo LeicestershireLeftOut says:

      I know the feeling.

  2. Avatar photo Taras says:

    Interestingly the New forest has its contract award date moved back by 3 to 5 months to Jan 23, and we haven’t heard anything.

    @mark i think some investigation is needed.

    I’m seeing some work being done, in our village. Its hard beyond the mounting of CBTs and new ducting to know whats going. I’m waiting the for the spine (must not call it spline) cabling to be done and splitters being plopped in the joint boxes(Natural England approved obvs).

    My own gut feeling openreach has the contract, but as said in your article, its hard to see the progress.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Hi Taras. Yes those dates are all very tentative estimates, as stated, so you have to take them with a pinch of salt, and they do move on a scale of months. This should not be considered unusual for such a scheme.

  3. Avatar photo James says:

    The first areas that have been identified for inclusion in a proposed cross-regional supplier framework include:

    North Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire (Lot 30C)
    West and Mid-Surrey (Lot 22C)
    Staffordshire (Lot 19C)
    West Berkshire (Lot 13C)
    Cornwall & Isles of Scilly (Lot 32C)
    Hertfordshire (Lot 26C)
    North West and Mid Wales (Lot 43C)
    West and North Devon (Lot 6C) YES!Always though Connecting Devon and Somerset was a failty large area!

  4. Avatar photo Kane says:

    After waiting years for fttp from openreach I have to say it doesn’t live up to expectations. I’m on the top package with bt 900 down and 100 up. After 7pm on weekdays and 24 hours a day on the weekends they throttle your access to any streaming video site (twitch, YouTube, prime video etc) to the point where you can’t watch for more than 30 seconds without it buffering. This is across 2 laptops, PS4, PS5, fire stick all connected with Ethernet and my phone obviously on WiFi. In my experience it’s no better than the standard fttc product openreach offer. The 4g data on my phone on three is significantly more reliable.

    1. Avatar photo Lance says:

      Have you queries this?

      Which ISP are you with? I’d have thought this is the ISP throttling, not Openreach?

      I don’t believe BT throttle any longer for example

    2. Avatar photo Doubtful says:

      This is exactly why I switched away from BT many years ago, back in the ADSL days. The problem vanished immediately. Try one of the reputable ISPs when your contract is up, don’t just go for the cheapest (and I don’t consider BT to be “reputable”).

    3. Avatar photo Ex Telecom Engineer says:

      “After 7pm on weekdays and 24 hours a day on the weekends they throttle your access to any streaming video site (twitch, YouTube, prime video etc) to the point where you can’t watch for more than 30 seconds without it buffering.”

      I’d suggest you raise a fault, since we’re on Plusnet FTTC and watch YouTube, Netflix, Prime and Disney without any issues, sometimes streaming multiple content on different tv’s. If we can stream without issue on 35mb down, 6 up, you shouldn’t have any issues. There must be a fault.

  5. Avatar photo Lance says:

    Quite a long delay for Cambridgeshire I see.

    Originallly projected for award around November 2022, now February 2023 (incidently, this comes to light on the day of the latest update which is on the second last day of February.

    Connecting Cambridgeshire responded to my via Twitter querying the silence on the Cambridgeshire award, saying to expect and update early/mid-March

  6. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    While I like competition, I feel there are far too many networks being built or already built by far too many different companies. I fear that some of them will go belly up.

    Here we just have Zzoomm and Openreach, I don’t think the city could cope with a third, Openreach and Zzoomm are having problems getting people to change to FTTP as it is.

  7. Avatar photo Keith Tester says:

    I live in West Sussex near Rustington I work from home and every day i struggle with Bb speed been told by bt there are no plans in the near future to upgrade our BB

  8. Avatar photo Testy McTestFace says:

    Direct in ground/direct buried cabled properties are stuck in a hellish limbo, I see.

    We’ve just been skipped by both BTOR and the only other commercial provider in this area. FTTP being laid all around us.

    We’re not covered by any BDUK lot and there is no defined timescale for keeping us “under review”. We could still be under review come 2026, with the govt hoping and praying that one of the commercial providers will have a change of heart (they won’t!).

    So basically we’re in this limbo and unlikely to see any sight of FTTP for many years, if at all. I notice that BDUK is conveniently “technology neutral” so they might just decide 5G is good enough for us.

Comments are closed

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