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Fern Trading Finalise Consolidation of its UK Full Fibre Networks

Thursday, Sep 14th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 6,520
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After a significant number of redundancies and a long period of silence, investment group Fern Trading – part of Octopus Investments – has finally revealed the structure of their UK fibre optic network following the consolidation of FTTP broadband ISPs Jurassic Fibre, Swish Fibre, Giganet and AllPoints Fibre.

In case anybody has forgotten, Fern Trading has – over the past few years – committed many hundreds of millions of pounds to the aforementioned operators, which have all been busy deploying gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) networks across different parts of the UK.

NOTE: Fern Trading also backs London business ISP Vorboss, which isn’t being consolidated.

However, it’s reasonably plausible that these networks may have also been suffering from at least some of the same strains as many other alternative networks in the market, such as rising build costs, competition from overbuild by rivals and the challenge of growing strong take-up.

Partly as a result of that, we had long speculated that Fern might eventually move to consolidate all these networks (summary below), and that’s precisely what they ended up announcing in February 2023 (here). Fern said that their businesses would work to combine their regional operations and create a national wholesale network during the course of 2023.

Summary of the Providers and Fibre Plans

Giganet – Backed by £250m from Fern Trading to cover a total of 300,000 premises by the end of 2025 – across poorly served parts of Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and West Sussex. Passed 50,000 premises so far (Dec 2022).

Swish Fibre – Backed by £225m from Fern Trading to cover a total of 250,000 premises across the Home Counties of England (i.e. mostly Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Hampshire). No data on premises passes so far.

Jurassic Fibre – Backed by £250m from Fern Trading to cover 500,000 premises across the South West (Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, and Dorset) by the end of 2025 (covering 30 towns and villages). Passed 150,000 premises so far (March 2023).

AllPoints Fibre – Working to deploy a wholesale FTTP network for other ISPs to use, but details have been very vague (here).

At the time, we suggested that such a consolidation could also result in various cost efficiencies, which sometimes has an unfortunate tendency to result in redundancies. But when we queried this, Fern, perhaps questionably, stressed to ISPreview that redundancies were not part of the plan for their initiative.

Nevertheless, after a few more months had passed, former staff soon began reporting sizeable redundancies at several of their networks (example) – Fern and its providers repeatedly declined to respond to our many requests for comment on this. But the good news is that their long period of silence has finally come to an end.

What’s Changing?

The announcement itself doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but it does confirm that they’re today launching new branding. In simple terms, broadband ISP Cuckoo, which was acquired by Giganet a year ago (here), will now become the main retail outlet for all of Fern’s consolidated full fibre networks (i.e. this is where consumers will get their packages).

As for the physical network infrastructure itself – Jurassic Fibre, Swish Fibre and Giganet will now form a single national wholesale network under the AllPoints Fibre brand, which is a bit of a curious move as this is easily the least familiar of the four brands. Despite this, it’s said that the change will “accelerate full fibre delivery over the next five years” by leveraging resources, knowledge, and expertise from across the group.

Jarlath Finnegan, CEO AllPoints Fibre, said:

“It’s an exciting and dynamic time for the UK fibre market, spurred by the nation’s growing need for countrywide access to fast, reliable and fairly priced internet services. That’s why the time is right to bring our new model for accelerating deployment and uptake to market.

AllPoints Fibre is poised to become a powerful, fully integrated wholesale business, that’s on track to build and manage multiple networks nationwide.

Meanwhile, Cuckoo is already positioned as a truly national retail ISP challenger, with its award-winning visual identity & design system providing a solid foundation to evolve from.

Our integrated, partner-oriented, customer-first approach, has the missing ingredients needed to provide futureproof digital foundations for all.”

Paul Hellings, CEO of Cuckoo, said:

“Our Cuckoo customer base which will bring in Jurassic Fibre, Giganet and Swish Fibre in the coming months, can expect some truly exciting developments from our combined team of experts and we’re very excited to share more in due course.

What I can say now, is that we will always push the envelope, not only through implementing the latest in cutting-edge Full Fibre technology, to make our products faster and more reliable than ever, but by ensuring that our customers actually feel good about their broadband, while we remain dedicated to providing them with an unmatched customer experience.”

Existing customers are expected to be migrated to Cuckoo over the “coming months“, which we hope will be a smooth process. But such things often cause confusion, which means that Cuckoo and Fern will need to be very careful not to upset existing customers by introducing any negative changes, such as in terms of service features or prices (changes, if they do occur, tend to follow further down the line).

We should point out that Cuckoo’s platform also supports other networks, like CityFibre and Openreach, which is important because Giganet has customers across multiple networks – not only on their own-build fibre infrastructure.

However, Fern has pledged that their revised brands will remain dedicated to “offering the lowest cost to serve, fast and fair services“, as well as an “unmatched customer experience across both wholesale and retail markets“. Time will tell.

Question marks also remain over how many premises the newly combined network has so far passed? How many customers they’ve attracted? What their build targets are for the future? How much investment remains committed to deliver on that and how many workers they have left? We asked and were told that, for now, such information isn’t being shared.

Once all is said and done, it’s not impossible to envisage the final network becoming a consolidation target itself, particularly if it were found to be struggling to generate viable take-up and the pace of build struggles to increase.

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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
34 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Zaibatsu says:

    Not sure if you can call Jurassic full fibre. Upload speed is not even symmetrical. This isp can’t even give you same download and upload speeds. What a joke. It’s only 100mbps upload and 200mbps for the most expensive package. I’m sure copper cables can easily achieve the same speeds. Even if you are connected to fibre you still have less than what other countries have. Pathetic.

    1. Avatar photo MikeP says:

      If you’re applying that criticism to the Jurassic Fibre offering, you should apply it to all ISPs offering services over BT Openreach FTTP, as that’s asymmetric GPON too.

    2. Avatar photo Ben says:

      Copper cables can achieve very fast speeds, see the various DACs used to connect switches. But that’s not the point, full fibre describes the technology used, not the speed. Let’s not fall into the same trap as we fell into historically.

    3. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Jurassic has many other problems beyond the number of premises passed. This might just save them if someone with any sort of clue rocks up to assist there.

    4. Avatar photo Steve says:

      Care to elaborate Anon?

    5. Avatar photo New_Londoner says:

      @Zaibatsu
      You are confusing the delivery medium, FTTP or “full-fibre” in this case, with the service offered over it. There is no reason for FTTP services to be symmetric, whether they are or not they are still being delivered over FTTP.

  2. Avatar photo Zaibatsu says:

    I hope Jurassic will change speeds to 450mbps/450mbps one day for everyone. Unless they still live backwards and in a cave.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew says:

      It’s Openreach’s fault for not building their network correctly the first time. Cityfibre can do Symmetrical speed because they started their network the correct way in the first place

      Openreach tried to save on costs, not regret it and are building XPON or something to then delivery symmetrical speeds

    2. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

      @andrew
      Seriously you are blaming Openreach because a 3rd party company with zero connection to BT took a business decision that you do not approve of? Wow.

    3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      GPON can do 2.5GB down and 1.25GB up so 1GB symetric should not be a problem. it is simply Openreach’s choice not to do this.

    4. Avatar photo Ben says:

      @Big Dave Jurassic Fibre have built their own network, they don’t use Openreach (other than possibly their PIA product, but that has no relevance to speeds).

  3. Avatar photo Alex A says:

    Giganet’s ASN has changed its name to AllPoints Fibre (https://ipinfo.io/AS198440). I’d expect other IP ranges from Swish and Jurassic Fibre’s ASNs to get moved over at some point.

    Cuckoo’s blog posts had the backhaul network as Giganet and the access layer as Openreach, Giganet etc. So I was expecting the rest to be rolled into the Giganet brand and for Giganet residential customers to be transferred to Cuckoo.

    1. Avatar photo Name says:

      I think they’ll all move onto the Cuckoo brand anyway with Allpoints being a access/wholesale network

  4. Avatar photo Michael Paul says:

    Seeing the comments around Jurassic Fibre, as a customer I am concerned what will happen to existing packages and pricing. As for the speeds VS the others on the list, unfortunately Jurassic Fibre is using GPON hence the heavily async speeds. But 950Mbps down and 200Mbps up at £40 per month is a huge amount more accessible than Openreach’s pricing.

    Anyone else starting to get itchy with being on an altnet? Can’t help but feel you’re gonna wake up one day with your connection gone due to all this consolidation and redundancy!

    1. Avatar photo Ben says:

      CityFibre use GPON, that doesn’t stop them from offering symmetrical speeds.

      Obviously Cuckoo _could_ continue to offer asymmetrical speeds (they won’t have an option where customers are using the Openreach access network), but I imagine All Points Fibre will standardise on symmetrical packages, with the ex Jurassic network upgraded to XGS-PON over the next few years.

    2. Avatar photo Bob says:

      If you consolidate all of them then they are likely to standardize their offering as that help keep costs down

  5. Avatar photo James says:

    Well they’re all part of the Octopus Energy group so I think they’ll be around for a long time yet

    1. Avatar photo NotInvestmentAdvice says:

      Not actually part of the Octopus Energy Group. Fern Trading’s shares are offered via the Octopus Inheritance Tax Service, so everything it does needs to be compliant with Business Relief rules. Must make for “interesting times” carrying out this restructure!
      https://ferntrading.com/terms

  6. Avatar photo Jim says:

    Presumably all the Fern Infrastructure falls under the All Points Fibre Brand, with a Wholesale offer to ISP’s, then Cuckoo is a retail ISP operating with All Points Fibre, Openreach and City Fibre infrastructure… Giganet has a sizable business with City Fibre and Openreach circuits (including aquiring Cuckoos own customer base on Openreach) and is a more recent own infrastructure builder with a smaller footprint than Swish or JF… Sort of makes sense to use a infrastructure brand with no legacy baggage or a retail ISP.

  7. Avatar photo Matt says:

    I kinda don’t get why they’ve picked the Cuckoo brand over Giganet though. They’ve had a slide in reviews recently or maybe they just want a name that isn’t “giga” related?

    1. Avatar photo Dirk says:

      I’m surprised about the brand choice. At least Giganet kind of did what it said on the tin, Cuckoo just makes me think you’ve got to be Cuckoo to choose Cuckoo. As a giganet (soon to be Cuckoo) customer I’ll be cuckoo to stay with them with the current service levels.

  8. Avatar photo Sam says:

    Swish has done around 60k premises, Jurassic around 120k. Very far from targets

    1. Avatar photo FEC says:

      Sam, very uninformed figures which are way off actuals.

    2. Avatar photo Jarlath the Destroyer says:

      Make that around 10k connected premises for Swish

      Terry loves his RFS which is just to mug off investors, he fails upwards. RFS was 50k

      125 million spent so far for 10k connections. OUCH

      He seems to get off Scott free,…

  9. Avatar photo Shameonyou says:

    They first announce that no redundancies are planned then proceed to make nearly 1000 people redundant under the disguise of voluntary redundancies, the staff were told to accept or you will be made redundant anyway!

    Shocking behaviour from this group and now led by the same people who spent all the money in the first place to fail…. Shambles

    1. Avatar photo Anon47 says:

      I’m one of the staff members that were forced to take VR 8 weeks ago, the company is in shambles, Iv worked for cuckoo for over 2 and half years, you only have to look at the glass door reviews to see something fishy is going on.

  10. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

    Giganet have been slowly deploying around me and have branded all the manhole covers with Giganet! Hoping this doesn’t slow down deployment as they are still a few streets away from me and Trooli skipped most of my estate (70s ducted lines).

    I wonder if this will also consolidate pricing – I looked to move to Cuckoo FTTC so I could switch to the Giganet FTTP when it was available but Cuckoo where charging significantly more for the same FTTP service… Would also love to know if I move to Cuckoo would it give me priority for FTTP or mean I am not able to take the 6 months free service for switching to Giganet FTTP?

    1. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

      @Ben – Ok there goes that plan. Guess I’ll just wait for ‘allFibre’ to be available so I can take out my new contract with Cuckoo… There goes the end of my year of moaning about ‘Giganet’ being behind schedule (I was told October last year originally).

  11. Avatar photo AndyK says:

    As a Giganet customer on Openreach, I will await the letter/email from them. I am not confident of my future with them, given that Cuckoo’s pricing when I last looked was beyond absurd. We shall have to wait and see what happens I suppose.

  12. Avatar photo Dave Matthews says:

    Somewhat of a moan but here in Exmouth, Jurassic Fibre dug and ducted my street and a few others nearby about 3 months ago, then seemingly everything went quiet since, with Jurassic staff quoting October and then “Next year” for availability, so we’ve got shiny new ducts and no availability at present. Meanwhile Virgin/Nexfibre are going like the clappers digging and, well not ducting, but “straw”-ing other areas, and in some cases areas already dug, ducted and live with Jurassic. Hoping that some work recommences after this announcement, whoever’s responsible for doing it!

    1. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

      I wonder if the consolidation caused some pauses? Giganet went slower than expect here but are at least still moving forward. Interestingly I’ve also seen Virgin Media branded guys surveying…

      I suspect it’ll kick off again once the company structure is sorted out.

    2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Don’t hold your breath. Swish Fibre (same company as above) in Banbury ducted our street in January, ran a cable between 2 poles and that was the last we’ve seen of them apart from when then decided they hadn’t retarmaced the path properly and dug it up and put it down again. It now looks worse than when they started. Apart from that nothing. Openreach took less than 6 months from start to live.

  13. Avatar photo Been their done it! says:

    The challenges associated with merging Five clearly struggling Altnets, (Giganet, Cuckoo, Jurassic, Swish and AllPoint) such as: –

    1. Rebranding to a single brand wholesale national supplier (AllPoints Fibre)
    2. Building a Channel Partner Sales/Account Management Team (AllPoints Fibre)
    3. Building a Business to Business Corporate Direct Sales/Account Management Team (AllPoints Fibre)
    4. Rebranding to a single Residential, Business to Consumer Retails ISP (Cuckoo)
    5. Designing, developing and implementing a national long haul, interconnected backbone, which is diversely routed, robust, reliable and dynamically scalable
    6. Integrating in an effective and cohesive way, all the various data, databases, CRM, bid to bill workflow management, marketing, build, rfs, ordering, scheduling, installation Customer Services and billing systems

    Would be a massive challenge for the most experienced and capable Senior Leadership/Management Team, who were starting with a clean sheet and loads of money. But when this is set against. The mess that some of these companies have gotten themselves into, in failing to hit their KPI’s, losing many more £ millions that forecast, whilst continuing to recruit, at the same time making what appears to be scattergun mass redundancies. makes it an even bigger challenge.

    You only have to look at the most recent customer reviews (e.g. Giganet Trustpilot), to see things are going to get worse, before they get better.

    Good luck and time will tell, how deep the investors pockets are, relative to their appetite for risk!

    Time will tell,

    whilst recruiting and making mass redundancies

Comments are closed

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