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London Full Fibre ISP Community Fibre to Cut Jobs and Pause Build

Tuesday, Nov 28th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 20,840
CommunityFibre-Engineer-Over-Street-Chamber-2022

Network operator and UK broadband ISP CommunityFibre, which is deploying a 10Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network across London and some surrounding areas, has today become the latest in a growing line of alternative network providers to confirm plans for staff redundancies and build suspension.

At present the operator, which also owns Box Broadband – a similar network that targets Surrey and West Sussex in England (here), is currently aiming to reach 2.2 million UK premises by the end of 2024 – more than half of all the homes in London (3.7m). Box Broadband separately holds a “goal of delivering fibre to in excess of 250,000 homes by the end of 2024” (not included in CF’s 2.2m target), although their progress remains unclear.

NOTE: CommunityFibre’s network had covered over 1 million homes and 212,000 businesses by the end of July 2023, while Box Broadband has done at least 50,000 premises (Box hasn’t given an update in some time).

As well as being one of the largest UK AltNets by coverage, CF has also secured one of the biggest funding pots. The operator was originally backed by £90m from Amber Infrastructure and RPMI Railpen, followed later by £400m via Warburg Pincus and DTCP, then £100m from a syndicate of existing and new banks. Back in October 2022 they also added a new finance facility worth £985m – made up of £685m in committed facilities and a further £300m uncommitted accordion (here).

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The provider is also well-known for having some of the most aggressive broadband pricing in the market. Customers typically pay from just £20 a month on 24-month term for 150Mbps with an included router (£22 thereafter), which rises to £49 for their top 3Gbps tier (£51 thereafter). On top of that they also have a special tariff that gives you 20Mbps speeds for just £12.50 per month on a 12-month term.

In short, CF has generally managed to cover a sizeable number of UK premises with a very affordable full fibre service and often at a fairly rapid pace, which is largely thanks to the relatively low cost of their PIA heavy build (i.e. running fibre via Openreach’s existing cable ducts and poles). But it seems as if even they aren’t completely immune to the market’s wider pressures.

According to credible sources, ISPreview understands that CF recently completed a strategic review of the business and have thus decided to focus on growing their customer base (i.e. the goal of creating a profitable business more quickly), rather than on building out the network’s coverage.

The sting in the tail here is that they’ll now finish any network build projects that are already close to completion, but will then be suspending the build programme for an unknown period of time. Suffice to say, you can’t do this without making a few redundancies. At this stage it’s unclear precisely how many jobs may be shopped, but the unconfirmed talk is of up to around 200. Not such a happy Christmas for some.

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A Spokesperson for Community Fibre told ISPreview:

“Community Fibre has successfully grown to become the largest 100% full fibre network in London covering 1.3 million properties across the capital, which is more than one third of London homes. More than 200,000 residents and businesses have chosen to join Community Fibre for lower prices, faster speeds and a better service.

Off the back of this success, the Community Fibre Board has decided to pause our network build as we can deliver a stronger return to our investors by focusing even more on our already successful marketing and sales activities and as a result continue to fill our network with even more happy customers.

There will be some redundancies, but we are working to minimise those with the opportunities in the other growing parts of our business. Unfortunately, we cannot comment further on the redundancies until the collective consultation process is complete in the new year.

This announcement will not impact Community Fibre’s existing or future customers, and we remain committed to bringing better, more affordable, sustainable 100% full fibre broadband to more Londoners.”

The news comes as network operators are currently under a lot of strain, particularly from rising levels of competition (price and overbuild etc.), rising costs (e.g. leases, build, inflation) and the need to generate a good level of take-up in order to satisfy investors. Such pressures can make it harder to attract fresh funding, which has resulted in several operators slowing their build and cutting jobs as they re-focus on growing take-up.

Moves like this are a prudent course of action, particularly during a period where investors are becoming more cautious and raising fresh investment is not as easy as it once was. Operators in this position may also become more exposed to consolidation further down the road, although that’s by no means a certainty. For its part, CF believes its own operations to be well funded, at least with respect to their existing build projects.

Speaking of take-up, Community Fibre confirmed above that they’re now home to more than 200,000 customers, which is a reasonable figure given how rapidly they’ve expanded their coverage over the past couple of years.

UPDATE 7:03am

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We also queried about the impact of all this on Box Broadband. A spokesperson for CF added: “We have already begun to integrate Box Broadband into the Community Fibre operation, and therefore the pause to build also applies to our footprint in Surrey and Sussex where we operate under the Box brand. There will be no further redundancies in Box as a direct consequence of pausing the Community Fibre network build.”

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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
53 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Pri says:

    When they say: “This announcement will not impact Community Fibre’s existing or future customers” does that mean areas where they’ve already laid the ground fibre will be completed?

    This is a real shame that they’re pausing things.

    1. Avatar photo Pri says:

      I should have read the entire post in full, it would appear that areas which are already close to completion will be finished, at least that’s a good thing.

  2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    The whole altnet business seems to fly in the face of what I would call conventional business wisdom – start small and start expanding once that becomes profitable. Don’t forget Tesco was once a bloke with a barrow in a market. It seems to me that the altnets were just out to make as big a land grab as possible then worry about filling it with customers afterwards. I doubt whether some altnets will ever become profitable enough to service the interest on their debt never mind repaying the capital outlay

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Some seems to think that if they build it, people will flock, that is not happening. As have been said many times on here and other forums, a lot of people are fine with what they have got and don’t see the need to move to fibre. I talk to a fair few people over the months and most of them think that way. It works, I can do what I need to do, so why go through the hassle of changing? I thought that and I still do, I would not be on fibre now if Plusnet gave me a good offer on FTTC, but they did not and they lost a customer.

      I went for a walk last Sunday and I had a look to see who had FTTP and while there are a few more than when I last went around that way about 3 months ago, it was still few and far between. Now considering that FTTP have been available for over 12 months, you would have thought more people would have changed. even if they are under contract, they can still renew a contract midway to go to FTTP on the Openreach network.
      I did notice that most of the FTTP splice boxes were ZZoomm, not that Zzoomm splice, they use connectors 🙂

      I know this is only two roads, but they are pretty long roads and if this patten repeats over the city, then people are not changing, they are straying put.

      It makes sense to stop buuilding and get customers as they will bring in the money.

    2. Avatar photo Ben says:

      They are using a VC backed business model as is common for tech companies – take large amounts of investment and grow quickly. It is a ‘land grab’ mentality, trying to sign people up before competitors can get in there. It’s also high risk of course, and many businesses failed in the ‘dot-com’ boom when they didn’t get their market share.

      Whether it is appropriate for an ISP is the question. The money is at least going into hard assets which have a realisable value if sold, albeit likely for less than they cost to create. So from that perspective maybe it’s a lower risk.

      However, there is little differentiation in the market that would stop customers switching. A service like Facebook can be replicated with a little effort. But customers are unlikely to switch to a competitor since it wouldn’t have the community to talk to. With an ISP, you get pretty much the same result whomever you choose – it’s generally all down to cost.

    3. Avatar photo Some guy says:

      Ad47uk, people are flocking and will continue to. CF are just one provider of many so collectively and across the country they are gaining ground incredibly quickly. If you look at the coverage maps of CF and Openreach for example, CF have comparable if not more coverage of London than Openreach.

      Openreach plan to cut off copper by 2026, where their own deployments have been slow to date, other companies are rising to fill the gaps and some are achieving it incredibly well. While realistically the 2026 target isn’t likely to be met, the thing is that copper cannot meet the needs of the collective population any more and so change must come.

      It doesn’t make sense to continue with a legacy system which is already pushed much further than it was ever designed for.

    4. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      Conventional business practice doesn’t apply to large scale infrastructure investment.

      The return on any investment is a long way down the line.

    5. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      > Openreach plan to cut off copper by 2026

      No they don’t. Their target is around 85% availability of FTTP by Dec 2026.

      Even by then, many of that 85% will still be using copper. Users who have FTTP available can choose to switch, or may be encouraged by their ISPs to do so at contract renewal time. Users who have FTTP available and are in a “copper stop sell” area will be required to move to FTTP whenever they change their service speed or change ISP.

      You may be confused because the analogue phone network (PSTN) is being switched off in December 2025. But that just means the copper lines will no longer carry analogue dial-tone. They’ll still be used for broadband.

    6. Avatar photo Some guy says:

      > You may be confused because the analogue phone network (PSTN) is being switched off in December 2025. But that just means the copper lines will no longer carry analogue dial-tone. They’ll still be used for broadband.

      As yes sorry for the confusion there, you’re correct

    7. Avatar photo XGS says:

      ‘Some seems to think that if they build it, people will flock, that is not happening.’

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2023/11/bt-group-add-860000-fttp-broadband-premises-to-uk-coverage.html

      ‘As for take-up, some 3.871 million FTTP broadband connections have been made on Openreach’s network (up from 3.123m), which equates to a take-up of 33% (up from 32% last quarter).’

      As far as posts on forums go I can’t speak for others but as far as here, TBB and Digital Spy go you seem to be responsible for most of the posts from people happy with what they have. What a surprise you talk to like-minded people. Anyone would think human nature were a thing.

    8. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Trouble is also that with Openreach going full steam ahead with their build if the altnets slow their build then if they want to ramp up again then they will more likely going up where Openreach have already built and had first dibs with the customers making it even harder for them down the line.

    9. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      @XGS,I chat to all sorts of people, I chat to people at work, Lorry drivers about different things when I unload their lorries. What Openreach or any other network for that matter says and what is true is a different thing. Many times we have had the wool pulled over our eyes on different things, so we think it is doing well, and we find out it is not.
      Not saying it is happening with FTTP, but numbers can be fudged.

      If something works fine and does what a person want, then why are they going to change, unless maybe they are offered a lot lower price, but that is not happening, certainly with BT, also the 24-month contract will put some people off. 24 months is a fair bit of time to be stuck in a contract, certainly when the prices will increase twice.

    10. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Difficult to fudge a number when it’s literally the number of live FTTP connections at the end of the month the results were taken divided by the amount of premises ready for service for FTTP then multiplied by 100 to produce a percentage.

      Truck drivers aren’t known for their interest in high tech and broadband as a general rule. Not a huge surprise they’d feel as they do: they’re never at home to use it anyway.

      Speak with people who work hybrid or entirely from home, white collar folks, get their thoughts.

  3. Avatar photo Tim says:

    So frustrating to hear this. CF are up and running in my town, but not in my street. Yet almost a year ago somebody was laying fibre right past my house. An Openreach engineer at my cabinet said it was not theirs. I’m thinking CF. Whoever it was, nobody is offering full fibre to my property. This does not seem a great way to turn investment into revenue, never mind profit.

    1. Avatar photo ToneDeaf says:

      Agreed Tim, CF in a certain area of Glasgow has “passed” many hundreds of homes but none of these are being offered a connection! I’m wondering how the “homes passed” statistics boasted by Altnets actually translates into revenue!

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      @ToneDeaf – this article is about Community Fibre pausing their build. They have only been building in London.

      Are you confusing CommunityFibre with CityFibre as I think several people have done in this article? Both often get abbreviated to CF.

      CityFibre are as far as I am aware still building in Glasgow, their builds include their own exchanges so are often more complex than other Altnets and hence can take longer to go live. I think their Glasgow build is their largest City.

  4. Avatar photo Bob says:

    So it covers 1.3M homes in London. An area with multiple providers. It only has 200,000 users and that appears to be across its entire UK network. That does not look good

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      How?
      People are in contract. People won’t know about CF or they’ll forget when it comes time to renew, some will argue for a better deal, some will want the cheapest price, some will want the “security” of sticking with who they “know”

      it’s a bit more complicated than “line go up” – growing a customer base in a market where people are tied into 12-24mo contracts, have triple play/quadplay services etc. are hard to break. It’s why Virgin for example push so hard to get you to take 2/3/4 services instead of 1 – it’s harder to leave.

      This will just take time, altnet’s pausing seem to get a collective eyeroll and the doom and gloom appears. They’re facing the same pressure we all are with high interest – pivoting the business model away from burning VC cash into trying to be more self sustainable early on, this is what happens.

      No one will be immune, except maybe BT as they’re big enough, and using shareholder cash or government tender cash to push through.

    2. Avatar photo Jamie says:

      200k out of 1.3m is fantastic, that is higher than the industry pen rate.

    3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @Jamie

      How can 200K out of 1.3M be fantastic? That’s only 15%, less than 1/2 of the 32% that Openreach has achieved, though I’ll give you it’s better than a lot of Altnets have achieved eg CityFibre was at 10% last time I heard.

  5. Avatar photo Obi says:

    Just my luck, I just got the leaflet that they’re going to serving my property soon, guessing that’s gone out the window ;(

  6. Avatar photo John says:

    Another Altnet following the exact same pattern.

  7. Avatar photo Ben says:

    Very disappointed. We’re sandwiched between CF on one side and F&W who are just completing their rollout on the other. I was hoping at CF we’re waiting for F&W to finish before starting here. Now we’re left stuck in the middle on a VDSL2 connection.

  8. Avatar photo I love Starlink says:

    Geez.. Selling very high GB speeds for very low monthly payments.. It’s like no one saw that coming…

    1. Avatar photo Flame Henry says:

      To be fair, there is zero extra cost to them to sell at maximum line-rate, especially when they are trying to get customers. The cost is all from getting the fibre in the ground and plugging in the equipment. It makes more sense than operators installing XGS-PON and 10G capable devices, and then only selling 1G.

    2. Avatar photo Berny says:

      @Flame Henry

      You know they’ve got to manage their own backhaul, and buy bandwidth to support that 10Gb connection of yours, right? It’s not a zero cost game. Especially in peak times when utilisation goes up, 20 customers on 10Gb vs 20 customers on 1Gb means a big difference to your aggregation layer. This becomes especially true when game developers push a big update.

  9. Avatar photo Box employee says:

    There will be no further redundancies in Box as a direct consequence of pausing the Community Fibre network build.”

    Well thats not true, a number of box staff are being made redundant makes no sense for them to lie about that.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Careful choice of words. I’m guessing it wasn’t as a “direct result”

  10. Avatar photo Some guy says:

    As someone in he industry I can offer some insight into the process, but remaining anonymous for obvious reasons.

    Building a fibre network isn’t a quick, easy or cheap task. The costs are heavily weighted on the construction side with it often making up a significant part of an operators expenditure, if not the most expensive part. Recouping those costs and breaking even isn’t something that’s ever likely to happen within a few short years, the £20 or so that each customer pays per month is nothing compared to the costs involved in building the network. That’s why Openreach dragged their heels with copper for as long as possible and the same will happen too with those fibre cables being in the ground for likely 50+ years to come.

    It’s not that operators necessarily can’t afford to build (while it may be true for some, it’s not universally for all), it’s that it doesn’t make sense to continue spending such eye-watering amounts when it’s financed and you’re incurring horrendous interest rates on that spend in the present financial climate. When interest rates are high it makes perfect business sense to slow down and weather the storm. Business 101.

    There are a lot of operators out there currently, so the take-up stats mentioned aren’t particularly surprising. 20-30% take up seems reasonable when you consider as others have said people being tied into contracts and unable to switch among other reasons. I also know that particularly with MDU and rented properties there can be difficult hurdles (landlords) to cross in providing services to those properties.

    It’s unfortunate that there will be casualties to staff, I’m sure many are great people and great workers and I sympathise for the situation that they will be in, but the alternative would be the whole company going belly-up as several others already have.

    Food for thought – with many in the comments championing Openreach, they’re also laying off 40% of their workforce by 2030.

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      “Food for thought – with many in the comments championing Openreach, they’re also laying off 40% of their workforce by 2030.”

      At the end of their major build programme, and with a lot of voluntary redundancy and natural wastage as people retire or move on. A rather different picture to what the altnets are doing.

    2. Avatar photo John says:

      Pointless appeal to authority. This is an industry website so majority of people are in the industry

      It is severe mismanagement, not natural, to stop build. It just proves they are not confident about the return on their build. As an example I have emailed them as a landlord to get my block of flats connected but I didn’t even get a response

      Turns out mass hiring tons of pointless redundant staff that don’t directly correlate to passing more homes or connecting more customers is a huge financial crutch. Especially going for a fancy expensive central London office when they clearly can’t afford rent

      It is a shame because if they had gone at a sustainable rate, they could just afford slowing down the build rather than stopping completely and then firing the people that worked hard to got them to this point

    3. Avatar photo Fender says:

      “Food for thought – with many in the comments championing Openreach, they’re also laying off 40% of their workforce by 2030.”
      Err yes, a planned reduction when the build is done. Not unplanned half way through because they suddenly ran out of steam.No comparison.

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Clive Selley (Openreach CEO) is on record saying that he does not envisage a large redundancy program, as stated above he expects job losses to be mostly natural wastage and dropping contractors. Outgoing BT group CEO Philip Janssen is on record of predicting the altnet story will end in tears (though he did get a bollocking from Ofcom for that).
      The government say they want infrastructure competition, Ofcom say they want infrastructure competition, No one has asked the customer what they want. I suspect all that it is achieving is to confuse the average customer resulting in many of them just sticking with what they know. A friend of mine on BT FTTC has already turned down FTTP from an Altnet even though Openreach haven’t got to his street yet.

    5. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Openreach only build where it suits them or if they get money to build., They don’t build where they are not going to make any money or very little.
      Openreach have the advantage that they got the original network for a pittance and have been grabbing money from that for years without much maintenance. They have had a lot of public money over the years, remember when the top was sliced off the TVlicence and most of it was giving to openreach.

      Openreach is a greedy company that is too big for its boots and now they don’t like it that they have competition, just need more of it, hopefully know the stuffing from them.

    6. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @Ad47uk

      Trouble is with the altnets slowing their build Openreaches position becomes even stronger. Not only do they get a revenue stream from their legacy infrastructure they can push on at full steam with less competition to worry about.

    7. Avatar photo Bob says:

      Most Alt Nets are slowing the rollout simply because they are running out of cash. The revenues coming in are not enough cover the build costs

    8. Avatar photo D says:

      @Bob – Exactly, some of the Altnets have huge amounts of finance allocated to them, but the investors won’t keep releasing money if they can’t see Take-Up improving.

      Passing premises is one thing, increasing Take-Up is another, it’s very obvious it’s extremely difficult and the reason why the Altnets are failing.

    9. Avatar photo Fender says:

      “Openreach only build where it suits them or if they get money to build., They don’t build where they are not going to make any money or very little.”
      What’s bizarre is that you seem to think this is a criticism and not common sense.

    10. Avatar photo Anonyme says:

      @john just FYI most of CFL employees work from home. There is an office in London but all the people who are being laid off don’t work from it.

  11. Avatar photo Greyscale says:

    The western half of Haringey is never gonna get fibre .

  12. Avatar photo Frank Butcher says:

    This doesn’t surprise me, in the Orpington BR6 area the build stopped around 3 months ago with no signs of it restarting at present. I’d say they’ve probably only done half what was originally planned for the area.

  13. Avatar photo D says:

    The whole Altnet industry is built upon huge amounts of debt, misled investors, flawed business plans, false promises and executives creaming huge salaries off the top who couldn’t care less about the employees below them, the employees that they recruit and then throw onto the redundancy pile without a second thought.

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Sounds like a lot of businesses

    2. Avatar photo D says:

      @Ad47uk – It’s based on my experience of working at Cityfibre.

  14. Avatar photo Mark Smith says:

    Over the last 9 months, Community Fibre have literally just been running fibre to overhead streets without even splicing them, connecting them. They literally went for filling ducts up and securing poles.
    You see loose cable bundled up on every pole in north west london without being terminated to a CBT.
    They now need to focus on finishing this deployment which is half started everywhere.
    But the expensive and challenging civil works are done.
    They have done a really strategic land grab everywhere which essentially means they have network nearby across the entire capital.
    From a business perespective they are very smart focussing on winning customers now to live on their infrastructure.
    It will be very easy for them to add and expand additional streets and buildings in the future.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Not just Community Fibre, here in Banbury Swish have been pretty much the same, seems to be a common story with the altnets. They dug our street in January and run a duct a fibre between 2 poles and that’s it. The only time we’ve seen them since is when when they came to relay the tarmac which they didn’t do correctly first time round. Openreach have now been live with their FTTP for 2 1/4 years now. The one section of road I know has gone live Openreach connections outnumber them at least 10:1.

  15. Avatar photo Abraham says:

    I am a holder of a diploma in Telecommunication and a certificate in Optic Fiber Splicing and Maintenance, looking for a job anywhere in the world. Currently I am in Zimbabwe.

  16. Avatar photo Stuart mayes says:

    I hope they gave terminated working with Solution30 as they are robbing Non subby paying clowns.

  17. Avatar photo RAS79 says:

    @Big Dave A friend of mine on BT FTTC has already turned down FTTP from an Altnet even though Openreach haven’t got to his street yet.

    He’s done right then. In my area (Matlock) we now have 3 alt nets. Openreach completed FTTP roll out a few years ago. Gigaclear have a made a right mess of things. Damaged existing live copper broadband cables and blocked ducts by building their boxes over them so the other alt nets have struggled to put their fibre in using PIA. I have some friends saying that the internet is off more than it is on with gigaclear.

  18. Avatar photo Curious Northerner says:

    Have to say this is not what I expected to read this morning , especially as a current employee of CDL.

    1. Avatar photo Curious Northerner says:

      CFL *

  19. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    Heard some very bad things that go on in this company and after taking one look at Companies house and you can tell they are shady. Something very wrong is definitely happening there

    1. Avatar photo Marcos says:

      May I ask why? They seem to have been (before this) my best bet at FTTH.

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