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CityFibre Pauses Multiple UK FTTP Builds Linked to Kier Group

Monday, Sep 4th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 17,544
cityfibre_trench_road_fttp

CityFibre has confirmed to ISPreview that they’ve recently taken the decision to exit a number of UK full fibre (FTTP) broadband contracts with build partners for a variety of reasons. One of those is known to be the Kier Group, which held various contracts for places such as Weston-Super-Mare, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bath and Worcester etc.

The operator’s 10Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network currently covers 3 million UK premises (up from 2.5m in January 2023) and 2.6 million of those are considered to be ‘Ready For Service’ by a supporting broadband ISP (up from 2.2m).

NOTE: CityFibre is owned by Antin Infrastructure Partners, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Mubadala Investment Company and Interogo Holding.

All of this forms part of their ambition to cover up to 8 million premises (funded by c.£2.4bn in equity and c.£4.9bn debt) – across over 285 cities, towns and villages (c.30% of the UK) – by the end of 2025 (here). The work is also being supported by various UK ISPs, such as Vodafone, TalkTalk, Giganet and Zen Internet etc.

However, it’s fair to say that CityFibre has – not unlike many other network builders – had somewhat of a rocky 2023. The operator, under pressure from rising costs, competition and other factors, like the need to generate strong take-up, began the year by announcing hundreds of job losses (here). More recently, the operator’s build in Norwich has been paused after their local build partner, Telec Networks, called in the administrators (here).

At around the same time as Telec was getting into trouble last month, we also started hearing reports of CityFibre’s work being suspended in other parts of the UK too. The full picture remains unclear, but some checking revealed that the biggest pauses seemed to be taking place in locations like Weston-Super-Mare, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bath and Worcester – these are largely the domain of build contracts with the Kier Group, worth up to £82m in total (here).

A CityFibre spokesperson told ISPreview:

Our rollout is progressing well towards our 8m target with over 3m premises now passed by our network and we’re on track to deliver 1m Ready For Service homes for our customers this year.

As would be expected with a programme of this scale, we continuously review the prioritisation of our rollout locations to take account of factors including competitive rollouts, build partner performance, and deployment costs. As part of that process, we’re pausing some local builds.

Alongside this activity we are continuing to align our rollout with our increasing participation in government’s Project Gigabit programme, a project in which we are an integral delivery partner, and we are actively exploring a wide range of commercial opportunities to expand our footprint further.

The decision to cancel or change a build partner is one that can often cause significant delays to related projects, and the larger the project, the longer it may take to resolve and restart. CityFibre will now have to find and appoint a new construction firm to replace Kier and Telec (as well as any other firms they may have exited), which in our experience is a process that typically takes up to around a year (sometimes longer, sometimes less).

At this stage, CityFibre have declined to disclose more specific details about the current situation, which isn’t surprising given that there will no doubt be various commercial and legal considerations. The good news is that the operator remains confident of both their roll-out targets and that they’ll be able to find replacement contractors, with the first of these paused projects expected to be restarted within the coming months.

Despite this, the level of disruption involved means that there will surely be some significant slowdown in their rate of build, although the operator has previously signalled that one way of overcoming that could be by acquiring a number of rival networks as part of a consolidation drive.

However, consolidation is also a complex and expensive business, due to the many differences that can exist between networks and technologies. But for now, it remains to be seen how successful CityFibre will be in this regard and whether it will be enough to help keep them on target. Meanwhile, locals in the affected areas will have to resume thumb twiddling.

We did ask Kier to comment too, but they have yet to provide a response.

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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
56 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Somerset says:

    Virgin Media are currently building across Weston-super-Mare.

  2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    No doubt Greg will be telling us the garden still smells of roses.

  3. Avatar photo T says:

    So they build in the retiree parts of Weston first, who are probably less likely to join CityFibre over a mainstream provider that has TV like BT or Virgin and now building is paused, nice. Never going to get proper symmetrical internet at my address lol

    Truespeed seemed to have buggered off out the town after installing in Uphill too

    1. Avatar photo Somerset says:

      VM seen doing surveys on the hillside. No future builds though for anyone on one.network.

    2. Avatar photo J Star says:

      No jointed up thinking.
      In my Town we went from no Fibre installs to CF, Grain and now BT.
      I know there commercial entities but bit of coordination in ducting etc would benefit all, consumer and Installer. All starting in different parts.

    3. Avatar photo 125us says:

      “A bit of co-ordination” gets you sent to prison. It would be a clear and obvious breach of The Competiton Act.

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      As the saying goes – the law is an ass.

    5. Avatar photo Tristan says:

      I work for one of the new fiber companies in East Sussex, not CityF though, but while it might seem odd where the fiber companies start and how they progress, if you look at where the main internet line (Trunk) is coming from it starts to make more sense.

      We had to start in an area that made no sense sales wise, but that’s where our connection to the under sea cables came from and it made more sense to build up the area as we brought the fiber through than it did to just go through it with the “trunk” line and not provide our service until we got to a more desirable sales location.

    6. Avatar photo 125us says:

      @Tristan

      You don’t connect your customers to ‘where the undersea cables come in.’ You take the traffic back to a peering point which in the south east is almost bound to be at LINX in London.

    7. Avatar photo Alex says:

      @125us No, but if you are laying ducting for one purpose it would be more expensive to have to come back later to lay more ducting.

  4. Avatar photo John French says:

    Smells like a VM merger to me, VM doing the same, letting staff go and cutting costs

    1. Avatar photo InfraGangster says:

      Interesting perspective. Libertyglobal/Virgin Media may have been preparing their balance sheet for such a merger. Including dvestment of big ticket assets such as AtlasEdge (PoP/datacentre assets), their stake in CTIL, multiple other European divestments etc…

      If they end up doing this deal, what a behemoth it will create: VM+O2+CityFibre….a fully converged telco infrastructure platform.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      some might argue that a decrepit coax network, a fibre operator that has tremendous overlap with it, and a very subpar mobile network isn’t all that much of a “behemoth”…

  5. Avatar photo Bob says:

    It seems a little strange. I assume from the article it is putting fibre into new builds. Putting fibre in during the build most be the lowest cost way of doing it

  6. Avatar photo Not again! says:

    Cityfibre taking down another build contractor?

    This really needs looking into, it’s not right.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      I’m pretty sure Kier are big enough to survive any problems with CityFibre. In law contracts between companies are not subject to consumer protection law so the law can only intervene if one side has broken the terms of any agreement between 2 companies.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      It’s not just a Cityfibre problem. Any sizeable network has had exactly the same problem, including Netomnia
      .

      Many contractors have bid too low and performed substandard work. At least the Alnets are not just accepting it and are pushing back.

    3. Avatar photo Hugh says:

      @Anon

      I get the feeling that it’s convenient for Cityfibre to claim they’re dumping contractors due to their poor quality work, when really they’re just putting the brakes on the build.

      It’s obvious they need to slow down spending while they wait for take-up to catch up.

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      I see elsewhere that Kier are bidding to take over the rail division of the collapsed Buckingham group so it doesn’t look like it’s a Kier problem.

  7. Avatar photo Too big too quickly says:

    It would appear Cityfibre have grown too big, too quickly.

    They have invested millions in their builds but the take-up rate is lagging too far behind, they are burning through money at a horrendous rate.

    They’re obviously putting the brakes on their build in an effort to get their finances under control.

    It’s less than a year since they made hundreds redundant and I fear they’ll be more redundancies coming shortly.

    1. Avatar photo FTTP says:

      It’s the same problem with Truespeed…

    2. Avatar photo Oggy says:

      Too big, too quickly in what sense?

      It certainly isn’t in terms of users connected to their network.

    3. Avatar photo Jon says:

      @Oggy

      Of course, that’s why Cityfibre are putting the brakes on and slowing the build.

      They have a huge debt mounting up and interest rates have risen, things aren’t going as planned.

      The take-up rate is lagging too far behind, they’re not even covering their costs, nevermind making a profit.

      It’s a shame but the general UK public isn’t ready to start paying for ultra fast FTTP connections just yet, the majority of households simply don’t need it yet.

    4. Avatar photo Phil C says:

      CF started build here July 2022, still not RFS. Either something is seriously wrong with their planning, or its just incompetence. I know of a few people locally who were waiting for them to go live, but now given up and signed new contacts with VM or FTTP over the recently installed BT build that was completed and live withing 2 months!

  8. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

    Idle speculation: I don’t know, but perhaps Kier bid cheap to win the CF contracts as a growth strategy after they last got into financial trouble back in 2019? And maybe the consequence of that and rising costs has meant ongoing disputes about work quality, and endless “claims” back to CF for additional costs? For a big regulated utility with a strong balance sheet and options for taking higher costs is often either manageable or unavoidable, for a big road scheme or hospital construction likewise, but for altnets it’s not – the investors have stumped up set amounts of capex, if the costs go up the build doesn’t go as far, targets aren’t met, business plans are disrupted.

    The problem with being a civils contractor (or any of the sector’s extended business models such as facilities managers, BOOT contractors etc) is that they have no real assets, no real market differentiation, and the business model is a cyclical and low margin one where they aim to contract “long” but hope to buy labour and materials “short”. If labour, materials or interest costs rise then unless they can pass that through to customers (who will fight tooth and nail to avoid anything they can avoid) then things get very bleak very quickly because it’s a business model critically dependent on free cash fllow from operations. One or two loss making contracts can wipe out four or five contracts thaat are performing. All of which means that bsince forever, civils contractors have chased work with aggressive pricing to win business at unprofitable rates, and then they need to wring more money out of their customer.

    It’s a dreadful business model for all involved, but whilst buyers chase the loest cost, and suppliers can get away with loss making bids then nothing will ever change. it’s been this way since I had some tangential involvement in such matters (on the buying side) and that was three decades ago.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      You’ve just got to look back to the Carillion collapse. They took on a load a loss making contracts which looked good on paper so the management got their big bonuses and then they ran out of money…..

    2. Avatar photo Dan says:

      Cityfibre’s executives will just keep creaming off as much as possible for as long as possible. They don’t care, it’s not their millions they’re spending.

    3. Avatar photo Paul says:

      @Big Dave… Yes I remember it well and shocking that Carillion’s former bosses walked away with millions of pounds in pay and bonuses.

  9. Avatar photo Crunch time says:

    I would imagine Cityfibre’s investors are starting to ask questions and put pressure on.

    They’ve only passed 3m of their 8m target and are already slowing things down.

    At the moment take-up rates aren’t enough to cover the build cost let alone make any profit.

    The investors won’t let Mr Mesch burn their money indefinitely. Crunch time is looming.

  10. Avatar photo CF employee says:

    Great! another announcement from CF heard via ISP Review instead of internally in the company…

    1. Avatar photo Another CF employee says:

      I agree, would’ve been nice to hear it from the management first, however I don’t think many of the managers know what’s going on.

  11. Avatar photo Gary Spooner says:

    Hi,

    Check out Factco’s recent pricing, starting from £13 per month

  12. Avatar photo Plymouth Steve says:

    Cityfibre launched in plymouth a couple of years back with plans to cover plymouth. I have no idea what area of the poulation they have covered as since then pretty much no updates. I suspect the next ice age will be here before cityfibre!

  13. Avatar photo VMO2CF says:

    They’re already designing the new logo for VMO2CF

    1. Avatar photo InfraGangster says:

      lol. seriously?

  14. Avatar photo BTMan says:

    I have many friends who work for Kelly and do CF contract work. I hope they are not next.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      I’ve heard of a least 1 Openreach manager who took early retirement and went to work for CF and left very quickly.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      I’m employed within the industry and manager a department. You wouldn’t believe the number of applications and CV’s our company’s been receiving from Cityfibre employees just recently.

      Makes you wonder.

    3. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

      To be expected really. It’s been such a big shake up internally and those left in the affected teams are understandably nervous.

      I think the reality is that FTTP build teams will no longer be needed in a few years time. Many employees haven’t understood that. That goes for both Openreach and the altnets.

      If you believe the CF targets the last build team will be gone by 2026. Some will unfortunately happen quicker than others.

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @Anonymous

      While it’s true the build will slow down a few years time it won’t be a cliff edge event. Openreach have their 25 million / 2026 target but Clive Selley expects to carry on into the 2030s albeit at a slower rate. He is not expecting a mass redundancy programme at Openreach, he expects it will mainly be through losing contract labour and natural wastage. We will have wait to see how the altnet situation plays out, I personally think that this will be resolved one way or another in the next couple of years.

  15. Avatar photo Scratch the surface says:

    You don’t have to dig very deep to see the reasons why I have zero support for Cityfibre while ever one of their main owners is the UAE government.

    1. The UAE government has a terrible human rights record, they openly persecute people because of their sexuality, prison sentences just for being homosexual.

    2. While the West does everything to support Ukraine, where innocent men, women and children are being killed on a daily basis, the UAE is supporting Russia by shipping computer chips and electronic components it requires to support it’s war.

    1. Avatar photo Howard says:

      I have to say, in my opinion the UAE government should not be working within the UK telecoms industry.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      No need to repeat post this on everything related to Cityfibre

    3. Avatar photo Howard says:

      @Anon

      To be honest that’s the first time I’ve heard about the UAE shipping equipment to Russia, to support it’s terrible invasion of Ukraine.

      I’ve just been reading about it on Sky News.

      Of course, we can all make our own decisions and you are quite within your rights to turn a blind eye if it suits you.

  16. Avatar photo Somerset says:

    Weston-super-Mare data centre – https://goo.gl/maps/nudBpMq2QeQVRtH28

  17. Avatar photo Lewis says:

    Of course no one will admit it but this is just another sign that Cityfibre is in financial distress.

    Sadly, more cut backs and redundancies are sure to follow shortly.

  18. Avatar photo Bob says:

    All Alt Nets are likely to be affected by the high interest rates increasing over build and slower take up

    It remains to be seen what impact BT only providing Digital line will have on Alt Nets

  19. Avatar photo There's more to this says:

    I don’t get it… Greg Mesch/Cityfibre are always boasting that their build to cover 8 million premises is fully financed.

    So if it’s fully financed then why are they “pausing some local builds”?

    You’d think they’d be pushing ahead, ramping up the build speed (not slowing it down) if they want to hit their 8 million target by end of 2025.

    It’s obvious there’s more to this story, I guess we’ll all find out soon.

    1. Avatar photo Timmmay says:

      The money may be better returned to investors than burnt on a bonfire of 50 pound notes.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      “why are they “pausing some local builds””

      Simple – There’s a dispute with the contractor. The contractor will be replaced and the build will continue. It’s happened before and will probably happen again.

    3. Avatar photo Peter L says:

      @Anon

      No, Cityfibre are just using the contractor as an excuse as they need to slow the build due to financial difficulties. But of course they can’t admit that so they prefer to point the finger at the contractor.

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @Anon
      CF seems to get through contractors almost as quick as it gets through cash. It would have to be pretty bad luck if all their contractors were duds…..

  20. Avatar photo Watch this space says:

    Cityfibre are pausing builds, right when you’d expect them to be ramping up the build rate to meet their target of 8 million premises.

    They’re blaming the pause on problems with build contractors, but of course that’s just an excuse.

    There’s going to be a big announcement shortly.

    Watch this space.

    1. Avatar photo B o b says:

      I delivered to a cf contractor site a few days ago now.. New contractor, ducting and fibre… his total workforce size consisted of 12 bodies.

      I and many other companies ( drivers ) deliver to Cf contractor sites all over the country a whole artic ( hgv ) load 3 times a week, of sometimes just fibre or a mix of fibre and ducting so I don’t think it’s a build issue as such, it’s more of a subbie issue.

  21. Avatar photo Paul says:

    Well I feel lucky, I’m in Weston-super-mare & had City fibre installed last week, our housing block is literally the only one north of new bristol road that has it, all the other live locations is south of that towards mead vale heading towards town.

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