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Job Losses Strike UK Full Fibre ISP Truespeed as Build Expected to Slow

Wednesday, Aug 16th, 2023 (11:51 am) - Score 6,240
Truespeed-2023-Van-on-Rural-Road

Sad news today as another alternative builder of full fibre broadband, Truespeed, has confirmed to ISPreview that a good chunk of its workforce are now facing redundancy (possibly c. 150) and the rollout of their 10Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to homes in the South West of England is due to slow.

At present Truespeed’s rural network, which is mostly focused upon serving premises in parts of Devon, Wiltshire and Somerset, has already covered 91,000 ready for service premises (up from 75k in May 2023) and they’re home to over 17,000 customers (up from 15k). The operator also held an “ambitious” overall target of reaching 500,000 properties by the end of 2026, but that will now have to be updated.

NOTE: The operator is funded by a total investment of £175m from Aviva, some £134m of which has already been committed to physical builds.

Unfortunately, the Bath-based provider, which according to their website “employs over 200 people” (we believe it’s currently 260), is not immune to the same strains as many other digital network builders are experiencing. Key challenges for operators in this market tend to flow from rapidly rising costs (build, leases etc.), aggressive competition from rivals (e.g. overbuild) and the related need to secure a viable level of consumer take-up.

Such issues are known to be dampening the appetite of investors to push new money into such operators, and to keep the funding taps fully open for those with existing commitments. Situations like this tend to thus result in slower builds (i.e. forces the operator to focus on growing take-up, rather than laying new fibre) and that can put pressure on jobs.

After a bit of digging, Truespeed has now confirmed to ISPreview that they’re also having to change their plans and cut jobs.

Truespeed Statement to ISPreview

In the last few years, Truespeed has grown rapidly to offer full fibre [FTTP] connectivity to over 91,000 RFS (Ready For Service) premises and has connected over 17,000 customers in the Southwest. We are now calibrating our business plan to match the pace of infrastructure funding and the higher cost of capital in the economy.

As a result of this exercise, Truespeed will reorganise to focus on improving sales and customer penetration in its existing network whilst continuing to build at a more steady rate.

To this end, we have started a consultation process with our staff and are focused on aligning our teams and roles to the revised ambition. Our focus is to go through this process and support affected colleagues, so we will not be releasing any further details at this time.

Truespeed maintains its ambition to connect and serve as many customers as possible with its ultrafast full fibre network in the Southwest.

Put another way, the operator is currently trying to reduce all forms of spend, including on network deployment and other areas etc. The goal is to ensure some degree of financial self-sufficiency, which is understood to be supported by Truespeed’s principle shareholder, Aviva Investors.

The rollout won’t be stopped, but it will slow a lot while they switch to focus on growing take-up, at least until such time as they can find enough money to ramp back up again (assuming that happens). Naturally this has an impact on jobs and some sources have indicated that around 150 workers could be facing the chop at the end of the current consultation.

The first sign of problems arguably occurred last year after the state aid supported Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme “terminated” two contracts with Truespeed, which they said had suffered delays in their £6.7m (public investment) deal to deploy a full fibre network to cover 15,172 premises (here).

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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
38 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Gravy train grinding to a halt. says:

    The fibre gravy train is grinding to a halt.

    Investors are beginning to see that the maths doesn’t add up and are moving on.

  2. Avatar photo JH says:

    Cityfibre (one of the largest altnet builders) is also scaling back their build again, cutting spending.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an announcement from them too, reducing overheads through more redundancies.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      No they aren’t, their focus is just moving to BDUK areas.

    2. Avatar photo Chris says:

      @Anon – Cityfibre’s slowing up their build drastically until take-up rates improve.

      At the moment their take-up rate is only around 10%. Obviously there’s a lot of lag between premises being RFS and premises actually signing up.

      I guess the investors want to see more take-up before they throw more at it.

    3. Avatar photo Fibre Bubble says:

      Cityfibre seem to be in distress.

      Plan was 8 million premises by 2025, but now at 2.5m they’re putting the brakes on again.

      It’s less than one year since they last announced scaling back their build and hundreds of redundancies.

      Slowing up spending, reducing costs and overheads. Sadly we all know what comes next… more redundancies.

    4. Avatar photo Jim says:

      @Anon – It doesn’t matter what you call it; moving focus, prioritising, changing strategy, etc.

      We all know it’s scaling back.

      They’re certainly not maintaining build rate or increasing it.

    5. Avatar photo Claire says:

      Yes, like when they call making people redundant “restructuring”.

    6. Avatar photo Insider says:

      CF are slowing in some areas (to fix deployment issues) but actually ramping up in other areas. So much misinformation in these comments.

    7. Avatar photo Howard says:

      @Insider

      Are you the same Insider that yesterday said…

      “Build is indeed being slimmed down just now, purse strings will remain pulled until operational breakeven is achieved”.

    8. Avatar photo Real insider says:

      @howard.

      No he’s a fake insider. Investors aren’t pumping any more cash until operational breakeven. You are correct.

    9. Avatar photo Insider says:

      Make up the story as you wish but I’m actually working on the new BDUK investments internally.

      £53m – https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2023/03/cityfibre-win-rural-cambridgeshire-gigabit-broadband-rollout-contract.html

      £170m – https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2023/07/cityfibre-win-three-major-uk-project-gigabit-broadband-rollout-contracts.html

      They are real projects and happening. Slow downs in other areas are mostly just diverting resource and funds for these projects

    10. Avatar photo Fibre Bubble says:

      @Insider

      I thought Cityfibre’s build plans were fully financed.

      Why are you having to slow down builds in some areas to divert funds for your BDUK builds?

      It doesn’t add up.

    11. Avatar photo Insider says:

      @Fibre Bubble

      The original 8M plan was in cities and larger towns, not rural BDUK. It’s a significant change in direction. Personally I think it’s a smart decision. Stop build in some overbuilt or more costly to deploy areas, divert that focus and cash to BDUK areas with no competition

    12. Avatar photo George says:

      @Insider I guess you’ll need to change your name from Cityfibre to Ruralfibre. 🙂

    13. Avatar photo JK says:

      So according to Insider…

      Cityfibre are making a massive shift, stopping builds in competitive, overbuilt areas, now concentrating on and moving resources/funding to concentrate on rural BDUK areas.

      Has anyone else heard of this?

    14. Avatar photo Farmer's Fibre coming soon says:

      @JK

      Yes, it’s all true. It’s going to be officially announced in the next few days.

      Cityfibre is going to be re-badged as “Farmer’s Fibre”. Building FTTP to 8 million farms in hard to reach areas across the UK.

      Of course it’s not true, Cityfibre are just feeling the strain, just as the other altnet builders are too.

    15. Avatar photo Facts says:

      Well the investors so look to be spending more cash, exactly the opposite of the claim above by “Real Insider”

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2023/08/cityfibre-begin-fttp-broadband-rollout-in-wath-upon-dearne.html

    16. Avatar photo Real insider says:

      @facts

      They are doing less overbuild, VM is available there but OR FTTH isn’t.. they’ll be utilising PIA build to save costs. You’ll also note this is a Phase 2 build… they haven’t even completed most of Phase 1 and they are starting on Phase 2….

  3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    Other countries have gone for a franchise by area system. We seem so obsessed with free market competition that practical reality goes out the window. Openreach and VMO2 are already providing competition so a third network should have been done on a regional basis with a common wholesale platform. This would have presented the greatest chance of success of breaking the Openreach/VMO2 duopoly in my opinion.

    1. Avatar photo Jim says:

      @Big Dave

      I agree completely. This crazy fibre gold rush is just wasting resources and investors money.

      The fibre rollout should have been done in a much more controlled way.

      At the moment it’s turning into a real mess.

    2. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      There are always pros and cons with every approach, so we shouldn’t say that anything is necessarily the perfect solution.

      Introducing a complicated system of regional franchises at a time when private investment was already flooding in, even going back 5 years or so, would have created a lot of tedious problems. Other concerns include the risk of creating regional monopolies, which could bring new complications and problems similar to those suffered on the rail network since its franchise system was introduced.

      We have to remember here that the current instabilities (rising build costs etc.) are largely reflective of some major events, most of which were not predictable and occurred after a lot of operators had set down their build plans and secured a first round of investment (e.g. COVID, Ukraine etc.).

    3. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      I’ve discovered that my area, which already has OR FTTP (and considerable uptake judging by the boxes on people’s houses), is being overbuilt by two different altnets for a three way fibre overlap. One of them has only recently got a cash reinjection, the other has made job cuts

      How is this supposed to work? It didn’t work for cable TV in the 90s despite having that franchised monopoly & everything rigged in their favour, it’s not going to work when OR and VM can provide robust competition.

    4. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Arguably we’ve now got the worst possible mix of public and private sectors.

      In telecoms we’ve got duplication (even triple or quad overbuild), altnets running out of money, BDUK shovelling taxpayer funded subsidies out the door on the weakly managed Project Gigabit schemes, a proliferation of vouchers, subsidies and other support schemes that don’t work well together, there’s BT still subject to a USO that requires cross-subsidise from urban to rural customers. That USO doesn’t extend to any other company, who can nibble away at BT/OR’s customer base whilst avoiding shouldering their fair share of the costs of providing connections to remote customers. And whilst the altnets may go bust, you can be sure that their deferred tax assets will be acquired so that the future owners can avoid paying corporation tax despite not having incurred the full investment cost of the build.

      Unfortunately, it’s decades too late now to adopt a regional franchise model, and the question now is how to complete the upgrade of the UK telecoms infrastructure in a timely manner that doesn’t involve excessive costs or further inefficiency, and doesn’t repeat the regulatory failings of the energy sector. Those energy sector failings were that new entrants were allowed to start businesses without any scrutiny to check for a credible business plan, they were also exempted from industry social obligation costs, subject to light touch regulation, and then when they mostly failed it was other customers or the taxpayer picking up the tab. It’s only the last one of those four that doesn’t apply to telecoms….yet.

    5. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      According to Neil McArthur of Freedom Fibre in a recent conversation with Richard Tang of Zen half they time they don’t know they’re building they’re building in the same place as another altnet until the crews come face to face in the street! Absolutely crazy.

  4. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

    “aggressive competition from rivals (e.g. overbuild)”
    Sorry but what?
    That is a load of tosh as any alt-net which does not get overbuilt will be a very rare one.
    Nothing aggressive about it, it was always going to happen and should have been factored into the business plans.
    BT made no secret of their first target of 26 million premises; KCom and Virgin likewise.
    The little fact that 103 other companies are digging up the country as we speak, indicates that there are too many companies with too little capital and skills to create a financial viable network is the issue.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Competition doesn’t stop being competition just because you know it exists or might exist in the future. But it should be said that BT/OR only really made a solid commitment to build truly national FTTP after AltNets started to really threaten them, and the regulator enabled a fair bet. Prior to that, it was all aspirational talk with no public rollout plan.

    2. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Also, the reason BT/OR wouldn’t commit was because they are a listed and a regulated business and until the politicians had rubber stamped the FTTP plan, nothing was going to be announced. In turn that decision involved considerations around the BT pension fund deficit whose origins date back to pre-privatisation days and the botched privatisation. I’m sure if BT weren’t saddled with that, then there’s a good chance Openreach could have been separated from BT, and if there wasn’t continuing political interference in key business choices, they’d have announced a national FTTP programme in the early twenty-teens. And to make matters worse, during that crucial time period of the late twenty tens and early teens, the minister for DCMS changed four times, with each incumbent lasting around a year and a half, so wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on.

    3. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

      @Mark

      It was the word aggressive that is tosh – it is just plain old fashioned competition. You make it sound like Truespeed are getting bullied by the big boys in the playground. If they thought for a single second that they were so special that no one would challenge them and that all 105 competitors would leave them alone, that goes to their delusions of being business titans.
      The only people I have sympathy for are those being made redundant due to the lack of management who can run this type of enterprise.

      @Andrew G
      Many good points there, BT have been over politicised and over legislated against since privatisation. And the constant sabre rattling by competitors whose business plans are unravelling due to the bad management at said competitors is tiresome.

  5. Avatar photo LPP says:

    It doesn’t surprise me. They have large coverage around us but we are still doing installs for VDSL and even ADSL. One whole village has left for them due to only ADSL 2Mb available yet we’re still stopped in the street by people there waiting for Openreach so they can move back to Sky etc.

    1. Avatar photo MikeP says:

      There’s a nail hit firmly on the head buried in that post.

      The days of the vertically-integrated Altnet are over. They won’t, in general, get near the necessary level of take-up of the installed infrastructure without wholesaleing. And clearly the BDUK condition of their investment requiring wholesale access isn’t translating into wholesale (sic) take-up by retail ISPs.

    2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @MikeP

      Problem is for small altnets is that for ISP’s to onboard with them is a time consuming and expensive business so that if say someone like Zen with 175,000 customers spread out throughout the country mostly on Openreach would never get enough connections on a local altnet to make it viable. For wholesaling to work you need to have a large area with lots of potential connections. 2 of the big 3 ISP’s (BT/Virgin) are highly unlikely to be buying through altnets and Sky currently doesn’t and these have something like 2/3 of the retail ISP market.

  6. Avatar photo Bob says:

    There are so many small Alt nets and so much overbuild they cannot all make money. Many areas now have Openreach plus at least two Alt nets. If they all get an equal share of the markets that just 33% if everyone takes FTTH. There is also the cost of the huge disruption multiple alt nets digging causes

    At this stage of the game we are going to see Alt Nets go bust and or merging or being taken over. It will get quite messy. There is not enough room for all the players in the market

    Wholesaling for most of them is not an option. NO ISP is going to hat the hassle and cost of dealing with dozens of alters

    ISP’s as well will not want to have to have different pricing for different areas

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Trouble is it’s not likely to 33% each, probably more like 60% Openreach and the other 40 % split between the altnets, especially if Openreach get a 2 year head start as they have where I live.

    2. Avatar photo GEW says:

      It’s been a well know fact for quite a while now that there’s not enough customers to go around, quite simply the maths just doesn’t add up.

      Investors are now realising this and are starting to put the brakes on. They want to stop/slow up builds and start seeing take-up rates improve before they put more money in.

      The altnet industry is fast approaching a turning point. Things are going to start changing quickly for many and not in a good way.

  7. Avatar photo Simon Whittle says:

    The Victorian railways (==> altnet fibre) replaced the canal (==> BT twisted pair) and look what happened to them, albeit over a longer timeframe.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Maybe the altnets should read this article on Victorian Railway Mania:- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railway_Mania.

      “Those that forget history are doomed to repeat it”.

  8. Avatar photo B.Kennedy says:

    Truespeed, zzoomm and county to merger

  9. Avatar photo Lewis says:

    This is so annoying. They made it 2 streets away from me before pulling the plug. Initial estimated build completion dates were July 2023. They’ve now been delayed to January 2026! Surely they should prioritise higher-value business customers in their build plans.

Comments are closed

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