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CEO of BeFibre and Digital Infrastructure on UK FTTP Builds and Progress

Saturday, Aug 12th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 3,744

The recently appointed CEO of full fibre builder Digital Infrastructure (DI) and sibling broadband ISP BeFibre, Paul Doyle, has today spoken to ISPreview about how they’re overcoming challenges with growing consumer take-up, limiting overbuild with rivals and the need for more UK government support.

The operator, which first launched in 2021 and aims to cover 1 million premises across 80 UK towns and cities by the end of 2027 (here), has created an initial rollout plan to reach 400,000 premises. So far they’ve covered 100,000 premises (June 2023) – Ready for Service – and are selling across over 30 locations (e.g. Crewe, Brentwood, Worcester, Clacton on Sea etc.), which is planned to double by the end of 2023 (c. 60 areas).

NOTE: BeFibre / DI is fuelled by a £100m investment from Basalt Infrastructure Partners.

One of the best people to ask about the progress and challenges of this build is new CEO, Paul Doyle, who happens to also be a Non-Executive Director of several other companies, including Manx Telecom, FullFibre Limited and Kirari. In addition, Paul is also a Director of Turnua and an Associate Lecturer at the IOB. Prior to that, he held several Director positions at eir Ireland. Suffice to say that he has plenty of experience.

The interview below explores a number of different topics, such as network overbuild between rivals, the impact of government interventions, engineer shortages, rollout progress and more.

The BeFibre / Digital Infrastructure Interview

Q1: Firstly, can you share with us a quick general update on the status of your network coverage (premises passed so far and areas of deployment etc.), your future targets/plans and how much total investment Be Fibre/Digital Infrastructure has managed to attract thus far?

Paul’s Answer:

So far, BeFibre is selling its broadband services in over 30 UK towns and cities.

With access to £100m of private capital funding from Basalt Infrastructure Partners, we’re pleased to be further developing our full fibre network across England. At this time, Digital Infrastructure is rolling out to a fully designed base of 400,000 addresses, with over 100,000 ready for customer connection.

We have invested in full fibre deployments across the following areas which will deliver significant growth in the network throughout 2023, currently we have customer sales activity across these areas, with further growth announcements to follow over the summer of 2023.

Essex and the South East – 34,000 Premises

Includes Brentwood, Clacton, Brightlingsea and Ingatestone

North West – 47,000 Premises

Includes Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Tameside, and Merseyside

Worcester – 11,000 premises

Midlands – 6,500 premises

Includes: Boston, Lutterworth

South Yorkshire – 6,700

Incudes: Maltby and Bramley

We have significant investment in this area and will continue to announce further villages over the coming months.

Q2: What made you decide to enter the market for alternative network (AltNet) providers and, given the current highly competitive environment, would you say that it’s still a market with plenty of potential for your network to grow or have the opportunities narrowed?

Paul’s Answer:

We recognised the increasing demand for high speed and reliable internet services — particularly in areas that were being underserved and overlooked by traditional network providers. So many organisations make promises that that they cannot keep when it comes to speed, reliability, and customer services, and never seem to follow through with these promises. It was Digital Infrastructure’s and BeFibre’s mission to change that.

While competition in the market has intensified, there is still significant potential for our network and customer connections to grow. Progress has been made, but the UK’s digital divide still remains, and that playing field must be levelled so consumers can thrive in equal measure. Our position as a transparent and people-centric organisation is more welcomed than ever — empowering consumers with fit-for-the-future connectivity.

Plus, with government initiatives evolving to support the full fibre roll-out — including strategic partnerships, simplified access rights, regulatory support, and more — the market’s potential is growing at pace.

Q3: One of the biggest challenges for AltNet providers, including yours, is the need to generate a sufficient level of take-up in order to satisfy investors and your own internal business models for future payback. But some AltNets may struggle with this and a great deal of consolidation is often predicted to be on the near horizon.

What sort of challenges have you run into when trying to generate take-up for the new network and, if I may be so bold, do you feel as if your own efforts are currently generating the desired level of adoption?

Paul’s Answer:

The challenge of take-up is only difficult to navigate if you don’t have a meaningful solution that meets customers’ needs. In a market where failed promises have been the norm, people have naturally grown weary of exaggerated claims, unreliable broadband connectivity, and subpar customer service from existing providers. Fulfilling our ambitious commitments has instilled a renewed sense of trust among customers and set a new benchmark for the industry.

It’s not just about building better broadband for us either. Actively embedding ourselves within our build areas has always been integral to how we operate — from sponsoring grassroots football teams with our ‘kits for kids’ initiatives to supporting local charities such as homeless charity Shiloh, as well as actively supporting foodbank appeals and providing much needed equipment for schools. In 2022 we committed over £20K to these good causes and 2023 is set to deliver even more good to the communities in which we work. By truly getting to the hearts of these communities, we can not only gain insight into the local infrastructure, demographics, and unique challenges faced by residents, but foster a vital sense of trust that shows we’re listening to their needs too.

We have invested heavily in community initiative projects within our build areas so far. Our initial community outreach began last March, when we supported Brentwood Borough Council to raise £17,000 for the British Red Cross DEC Ukraine appeal. One on our most recent initiatives also saw us support Shorefields School — a special needs school in Clacton-On-Sea — whereby we pledged a donation to purchase a sensory kit for the students.

Q4: Overbuild between rivals is becoming an increasingly big challenge, even among smaller players. If you could implement one realistic solution to tackle this, what would you choose?

Paul’s Answer:

The potential for overbuild is certainly a challenge within the market, but I do believe that organisations are behaving rationally, in the main.

Refraining from duplicating infrastructure in areas already served, avoids unnecessary competition between alternative network providers, wasteful spending, and inefficient use of resources. Focusing our investments on underserved areas and strategically planning our network deployments to avoid overbuild will be key to meeting the diverse connectivity needs of communities across the UK.

Later this year, as our connectable base reaches critical mass, we look forward to welcoming other ISPs to launch on our network too. This level of infrastructure sharing will play a central role in tackling overbuild — optimising existing resources while empowering customers with greater choice when it comes to their internet services.

Q5: One of the biggest problems that smaller AltNets face is the lack of brand recognition, as well as limited consumer awareness and thus, trust. How can providers like BeFibre overcome such challenges, given that there is a need to build take-up as rapidly as possible (i.e. the usual approach of building brand recognition slowly, over time, may not be enough)?

Paul’s Answer:

There really is no shortcut to building brand recognition, even in this digital age. Yes, technology enables us to reach more potential customers, with access to a wider variety of channels — and we leverage that effectively — but a strong brand is built upon delivering on the promise it makes to customers. So, we focus our efforts on fulfilling our commitments, as well as knocking on doors, and using a combination of traditional and digital marketing methods to raise our profile.

Creating a brand identity that cuts through the noise of a crowded market was challenging to say the least. By using straight-talking language that exudes modern, personable, vibrant, and playful traits, we’re wholeheartedly committed to raising a smile on our customers’ faces and, more importantly, delivering communications anyone can understand. We’re proud to see our vibrant visuals bolster this too — offering an exciting dynamic that mirrors our service offering.

We’ve briefly touched upon BeFibre’s community initiatives already, but integrating ourselves within our build areas also helps to augment our profile. By being present and engaging in localised discussions, and genuinely contributing to their growth and development, we can establish meaningful and long-lasting connections within the communities we serve.

Now flick over to page 2 for the final questions.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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3 Responses
  1. Avatar photo GNewton says:

    You would have thought that BeFibre would focus on areas with low or no competition.

    But no, they went to Clacton, which also has another 3 fibre networks (LitFibre, Lightspeed, Openreach). Low takeup rates guaranteed!

    The only sensible area is Brightlingsea which had no fibre network prior to BeFibre’s arrival.

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      Lots of Alt Nets are doing the same thing. They probably planned the rollout years ago but by the time they start rolling out other providers have already go there

      Most of those place quoted have competition and as you point out most of Clacton has a choice of several providers so there will not be much of a market for them as the other Alt Nets will have taken the customers

      There will be a lot of Alt nets going out of business in the next year or two in my view. To many Alt nets chasing too few customers. The cost of servicing their debt is increasing as well but revenues are not increasing much

    2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      The problem seems to be that the altnets make their plans years in advance completely oblivious of what anyone else is doing. Ofcom is so committed to free market competition that common sense has gone out the window. Other countries have gone for a regional franchising system which would have probably been more successful.

      This video with Richard Tang of Zen and Neil McArthur of Freedom Fibre is quite informative.


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