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CityFibre UK Puts Swindon FTTP Broadband Rollout on Pause

Monday, Dec 4th, 2023 (8:47 am) - Score 6,240
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Network operator CityFibre has confirmed that, following an “ongoing review of prioritisation of our deployment locations“, they have taken the decision to pause their £40m project to deploy a new gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP network across the Wiltshire town of Swindon.

CityFibre’s deployment in Swindon began in October 2020 (here) and was originally supported by civil engineering firm VolkerSmart Technologies (recently rebranded to VolkerTelecoms). The same contractor has worked with the operator in a number of other locations, such as Bracknell, Maidenhead, Slough and Ipswich.

NOTE: CityFibre – supported by various UK ISPs (Vodafone, TalkTalk, Giganet and Zen Internet etc.) – is owned by Antin Infrastructure Partners, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Mubadala Investment Company and Interogo Holding.

However, it’s fair to say that the Swindon build did suffer from some problems and complaints over the years (here and here), although the operator has still managed to cover the vast majority of the town with their new network and so the impact of today’s pause – occurring ahead of the original 2024 completion goal – shouldn’t be as significant as it could have been.

At the same time the operator has had somewhat of a rocky 2023, which is not unlike many other network builders. The operator, under pressure from rising costs (build, leases and interest payments on debt etc.), competition and other factors (e.g. the need to generate strong take-up), began the year by announcing hundreds of job losses (here) and also suffered disruption in Norwich after their local build partner, Telec Networks, called in the administrators (here).

Shortly after that we also learnt that a fair number of their other build locations (here), such as those linked to Kier Group and the odd other contractor, had been “paused” as part of the same review process as mentioned for Swindon. The decision to cancel or change a build partner is one that typically causes significant build delays, as it can take up to around a year to find and appoint a suitable replacement for large projects.

A CityFibre spokesperson said (Swindon Advertiser):

“CityFibre is pausing its Swindon rollout, and we won’t be getting to Wroughton in the near future. This decision comes as part of an ongoing review of prioritisation of our deployment locations, given the pace and scale of our nationwide rollout.

Any areas we no longer intend to reach as part of our commercial rollout are communicated to BDUK via the normal channels. I’m sorry we won’t be able to supply full fibre to Wroughton as part of this current rollout, but there is a possibility we will return to finish South Swindon and Wroughton at a later date.”

The news that Swindon has become the latest build project to be put on ice is particularly concerning, since CityFibre were already getting fairly close to completion of the original build plan (at least they will, once all of the ‘built but not yet live’ areas become ‘Ready for Service’). But the reality here is that the operator, like many other players in the current market, need to keep a close eye on their financial situation and focusing on monetising what they’ve built so far is a natural response to the pressure.

The operator’s wider full fibre network currently covers 3 million UK premises (up from 2.5m in January 2023) and 2.6m of those are considered to be ‘Ready For Service’ by a supporting broadband ISP (up from 2.2m). But their original ambition is to reach up to 8m 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).

CityFibre told us a couple of months ago that they remain confident of both their roll-out targets and that they’ll be able to find replacement contractors for all their paused projects. But after so much disruption it’s becoming increasingly hard to see that 8 million ambition as being achievable by the end of 2025.

The operator has previously talked about balancing this through the potential acquisition of some rival networks to boost their coverage. However, consolidation is 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.

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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
50 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Matt says:

    Second big alt-net in the last week to announce pausing of deployment. A sign that take up/demand is slowing?

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The main problem is likely to be those rising costs the article mentions, particularly for those that are carrying a lot of investment via debt. You have to pay interest on that debt, and so periods of high inflation can quickly become a serious drag as those payments go up.

  2. Avatar photo Alastair says:

    Their build in Blackpool seems to be slowing to a halt too. Disappointing times for people hoping for an alternative to Openreach this decade.

    1. Avatar photo Liam says:

      We’re actually seeing the opposite in Blackpool, we’re seeing more properties being released in the last few weeks than we have in the 12 months prior.

  3. Avatar photo James says:

    You have to wonder, is this the investors that are putting the brakes on?

    I haven’t seen any figures recently but I’m guessing take-up rates are still very low and investors won’t keep pumping money in unless they start seeing improvement.

  4. Avatar photo Barney says:

    Guess they have all those government-funded BDUK Gigabit rollouts to programmes in too!

  5. Avatar photo Lee says:

    Pretty much all their South West build has been cancelled/suspended, Cheltenham,Gloucester Weston Super Mare, Plymouth. Not sure if there are any others but pretty much all staff have been laid off.

    1. Avatar photo george says:

      hi Lee is there any evidence that they have paused in Plymouth,I was hoping to get city fibre,the isp prices are cheaper on their system,i Have been watching their roll out which seems to have stopped in PL3,There seems to be nothing on their contractors site oakway ltd

    2. Avatar photo Dave says:

      @George

      CF have stopped in Plymouth. Currently only finishing off to complete existing nodes built.

    3. Avatar photo george says:

      thankyou dave looks like Im going to have revise my plans,I was as i said hoping to get a cheaper deal with the altnet, Its annoying that half of Plymouth can get cheaper deals and the rest have to make do with open reach or virgin, I did manage to contact someone on city fibre and got this “Early planning stages – no forecasted live date yet” which I think is tech speak we havent got a clue when its going to be done

  6. Avatar photo Alastair Stevens says:

    Does anyone know how to actually get this communications company to communicate? It seems the build in Gloucester & Cheltenham is paused as well (following issues with Kier), but it’s impossible to find any updates. It seems I’m going to be the last house left in England without any fibre at this rate. Half the city is done, the other half is a complete fibre desert, abandoned by all of the networks!

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Openreach are building in scale in Cheltenham, and have at least some FTTP work ongoing in Gloucester.

      Both have Virgin Media so will get full fibre overbuild and I believe they’ve done some network extension work in that area too.

    2. Avatar photo John says:

      Netomnia has already deployed to most of Cheltenham, it would be a daft mistake to overbuild further

    3. Avatar photo James says:

      We just had Openreach come down our street in Cheltenham and install CBTs + dig all the way down the street to lay some kind of new ducting, although I wonder why as the whole street is serviced by telephone poles currently. We already have Netomnia and Virgin Media.

      Can’t complain, it will be good to have more options to switch to if the shenanigans with YouFibre continue, running a third party router with them means they will refuse to even talk to you on the phone even when it’s their own network that is down in the area, and we’ve had a few outages in the past year. Shame because the service is great when it works.

  7. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    wasn’t Swindon among the initial Openreach “fibre first” locations, with 100% coverage and exchange stop sells on copper and all the rest of it.

    Kind of puts a damper on the alt-net talking points around Openreach overbuilding the competition when they’re quite happy to attempt the reverse

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      I think that Salisbury rather than Swindon and yes Salisbury copper services are amongst the first to be put on stop sell.

  8. Avatar photo Meadmodj says:

    Leaving partially covered areas may work against them. Yes a pause to focus on market share on existing sounds sensible. However the larger ISPs that would have considered switching to CityFibre may hold off as it may be more efficient for them as they only need to provide capacity to the OR handover point as they can accommodate both FTTP and FTTC at the main OR City/Town buildings.

    They have also overbuilt many VM areas and will have to do a lot to overcome VM loyalty/TV dependence and aggressive response. In addition they are up against BT/EE and Sky advertising campaigns with 50% FTTP availability and the current FTTC.

    Its not just the total coverage but the percentage of coverage of an area that will attract large ISPs. CF are probably experiencing the same.

    1. Avatar photo Meadmodj says:

      50% ish of OR Planned FTTP or very soon

  9. Avatar photo I love Starlink says:

    I trained via another company. I did a month and a half with CF contracts and it was so crap I paid the get out of the place and went to BTO instead. The way even the staff talk about the place, shocking.

  10. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    When an infrastructure provider goes bust, what happens? Are the customers of the ISPs left with no broadband, is there a provider of last resort to take over, or are they switched to another provider, and if so, how long does that take and does it mean digging up the streets again?

    1. Avatar photo Jordan says:

      Someone normally buys them for a cheaper price if they go bust, like VM was looking into buying CF for a while now. Maybe its the best time to do so.

    2. Avatar photo Ed says:

      As when energy suppliers went bust and Ofgen appointed a “supplier of last resort”, should an Openreach-based supplier go under then BT is (I think) the SoLR then. A working line takeover is simple as long as the actual line is there. As to what would happen when a whole alt-net fails then no Ofcom plan has ever been made public (if it has even been made). Caveat emptor.

    3. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

      1. There is no supplier of last resort. OFCOM reportedly were trying to get Openreach to agree to be so but that hasn’t happened yet. And without a massive cheque from OFCOM to pay for it, why would they?
      2. If an infrastructure provider does go bust then the administrator will try to sell the company as a going concern to get the best value for the creditors. But there is no guarantee that anyone will buy it.
      3. No one is going to rush to put fibre into the ground in an area where the infrastructure company has failed and the assets aren’t attractive enough to buy.
      4. So if no one wants to buy the assets from the administrator then it is good night Vienna and the hardware will be shut off and the customers left to their own devices(unless their ISP has an alternative supplier, eg Openreach, to which they could move their customers). Remember some altnet providers are the sole ISP so no alternatives there.
      5. Expect downtime if it happens.

    4. Avatar photo MikeP says:

      “Occasionally Factual” has it right there. Some of us are old enough to remember Ionica going under. No-one bought the assets, and when their switch was turned off, everyone who had a landline number from their allocated range lost it, thanks to the idiot way number portability is done.

    5. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      Currently I am on VM cable. I was considering switching to CityFibre, but as if that goes bust the only alternative is Openreach FTTC, I think it’s best not to switch at all.

    6. Avatar photo 125us says:

      @MikeP

      BT ran Ionica’s network until all the customers who wanted to be transferred were moved off the network.

  11. Avatar photo mike says:

    Hi Mark have you heard any news about CityFibre in Norwich since they paused their build? I’ve noticed CityFibre making new appearances on BIDB, but not in the locations the build was abandoned.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Nothing yet, and it’s probably still too soon.

  12. Avatar photo JJ says:

    Swindon is a great place aswell! Lots of potential there

  13. Avatar photo Tommy says:

    @D Across the UK people are sadly having to be made redundant everyday because of companies getting themselves into difficulty, its not nice when it happens to you but you have to brush yourself down and go again. Its not a personal but financial decision.

    Saying they don’t deserve to succeed because of your redundancy is just childish.

  14. Avatar photo Jack says:

    The build paused here in Kent and nothing has been said since the end of September. I asked one of the contractors, and they had no idea what would happen to the streets already dug and laid.

    I’m one of those streets. The cabinet and fibre was installed and it’s been abandoned since. A couple of guys wearing orange jackets were looking at it on Saturday, but there were no visible signs as to who they worked for or the purpose of the visit.

    Openreach claimed my street would be live in September which changed to December this year, but now the December 2026 has been put up.

    Just such a mess with no answers!

  15. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    Trouble is having woke the sleeping giant that is Openreach with their builds, the altnets are now very much between a rock and a hard place. With interest rates now higher (although in historical context interests rates are very much now where the long term average for the UK is so if they didn’t factor in the fact that interest rates go up as well as down that was somewhat careless of them) they now need to slow down and improve take up to try to stop debts spiralling. They also have to face the fact that Openreach will now continue at a pace and if the time comes to ramp up again they could now be going up against an existing Openreach build with an established customer base where previously they could have been first in the street.

    1. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      Where Openreach has yet to install fibre, then the commercial failure of an altnet will give OR a golden opportunity to extend its network for a song.

      Rather like the railway companies did in the nineteenth century.

  16. Avatar photo Colin says:

    I’m surprised CityFibre have made any progress at all with their infrastructure. Having dealt with them over the past 2 years, trying to have them connect the MDU I’m in, they seem clueless and often contradict themselves around what the process for connecting an MDU is. Now they keep sending junk mail that says we can connect despite no prewiring taking place.

    They’ll arrange for an engineer to call out, realize it’s an MDU, tell me the engineer is cancelled as they’ll need to prewire but still send automated messages that an engineer is due to visit on the specified date. Subsequently, they’ll tell me to contact my service provider with any complaints when it’s CityFibre who are misleading both the service provider and me.

    Not to mention, getting any response from them is nigh on impossible unless you verge on the point of spamming them by following up weekly.

    Realistically, Swindon’s best bet is to wait for the likes of OpenReach or a more competent infrastructure provider to lay the groundwork.

  17. Avatar photo Mr White says:

    Swindon has had Openreach laying fibre for some time now and have much of the town covered. Cityfibre & OR seem to be focused on covering the same postcodes rather than covering all of the town.

  18. Avatar photo yeehaa says:

    Looking at the Roadworks Scotland website, it looks like CityFibre’s roll out in Edinburgh has come to a grinding halt as well.

  19. Avatar photo Ian says:

    If you look at their annual report from 2022 (2023 should be available soon), it suggests the drawdown facility (finance provided to fund the network build) is tied in some way to the number of connections achieved for certain expenditure, which I would imagine has fallen off a cliff as costs have risen. The stated solution for this unlikely eventuality is ‘to slow down or pause rollouts to reduce expenditure’.

    They basically signalled it as possible modelled (if extreme) adverse scenario, but it seems to have actually happened.

  20. Avatar photo Brian says:

    Alternative view or at least one which may yet get played out, although I don’t think it’s the truth.

    Equinox 2 has made continued investment higher risk. CF now illustrating impact of this and needing to reign in as they said they would do. See Ofcom look what we had to do!

    Investors could well be happy to play a bit of a long game on that one whilst giving themselves a needed break to recompose themselves (the real reason – you can only go at a million miles an hours for so long), then come back with a cleaner plan

    OR

    Negotiations on a buy out / JV are advancing quite well…

  21. Avatar photo Jason says:

    Overbuilding 3 other alt nets in my area , no wonder they are blowing cash like theres no tomorrow

    1. Avatar photo No Name says:

      Same story around here, not CF but other altnets.

      2 Altnets are fighting over a town with 30,000 people that has nearly 100% coverage from OR FTTP and VM FTTP. Down the road a town of 120,000 has no FTTP and no altnets.

      There is no economic sense in alot of the plans, and ultimately when they go bust, the bigger forgotten areas will still be left behind as OR won’t have an incentive to build anymore due to not having competition.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      in my location it’s also a double overbuild, with three FTTH companies including OR and CF.

      In the nearby town it’s OR/CF/VM. Of course when you get a bit further out and start to see fields then it’s down to just OR.

      It really is unclear how this business plan was supposed to work. I guess that’s why CF would complain and threaten to challenge Equinox 1 and 2, as they were hoping that BT would be sufficiently knobbled as it was in the 1990s against the cable companies

    3. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

      @noname
      Openreach will get around to a town with 120k population as they want to remove all the expensive to support copper so FTTP will arrive. It will be in their plans but just not made public as they were burned by all the complaints when FTTC was rolled out and the build schedule took longer than the published plans said.
      The Openreach FTTP build is one of the biggest UK peace time civil engineering tasks with a reasonable time-frame to cover the whole of the UK (with some exceptions). So while you may not be at the top of the list, the town will get service.

    4. Avatar photo Sam says:

      Which town of 120k does not have any altnets?

    5. Avatar photo No name says:

      @sam,Burton.

      ITS is active but it’s not really an Altnet. It’s business only. Some of the town can get Virgin Media but only about half.

      Openreach FTTP has been coming since 2020 but keeps getting revised further into the future. Swadlincote is the 30k town I’m on about.

      Full Fibre, Netomnia, OR and VM. Netomnia are building in Burton but it’s only to get their network to Swadlincote, there’s no rollout, which is frustrating.

  22. Avatar photo greggles says:

    Mark i feel you need to prod more, there is threads on your forums about weird unexplained CF delays in Leicester, not only did all the works stop for months with no reason given, after they resumed its now stuck in the “done but no ISPs stage for several months” with CF now not responding on their contact form.

  23. Avatar photo arundel says:

    Not even packets want to go to Swindon

  24. Avatar photo Bob says:

    In many areas there are already multiple operators so whilst pausing the build conserves cash it also means the potential market when and if they restart will be smaller. The other issue is even with the build paused will they get enough revenues in to cover there day to day operating costs ?

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      For paused read cancelled.

  25. Avatar photo Oggy says:

    Are there many areas where their build hasn’t been “paused”?

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      A few. Looks like they finally got on board with that overbuilding anyone other than Openreach and VM is a bad idea.

      They seem to have given up in this city for now and are focusing on the less competitive but larger city next door.

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