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Airband Restructuring Puts Pressure on Jobs and UK Fibre Build

Friday, Jan 19th, 2024 (3:52 pm) - Score 7,320
Airband-Engineer-Walking-Up-Cobbled-Street

Broadband ISP and network builder Airband, which originally aimed to cover 600,000 UK premises in rural areas via a mix of their wireless (FWA) and full fibre (FTTP) networks by the end of 2025, has revealed that it’s going through a “period of restructuring” after claims of redundancies and build pauses surfaced.

The provider is currently owned by Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI), which acquired a majority stake in November 2020, and in 2021 the company was also successful in securing a £100m debt package from an international banking consortium (HSBC, Lloyds, Nord LB and Sabadell). Since then they’ve continued to expand their network across various parts of the country, particularly around Devon, Somerset, Shropshire, Oxford and other places.

Airband is also known to have secured a number of state-aid supported rollout contracts, such as via the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) and Connecting Shropshire programmes in England. But like so many other alternative network operators in the market right now, they’re not immune to the wider pressures, such as rising built costs, competition from rivals and the difficulties of securing fresh investment in a high interest rate environment.

The challenges were underlined in June 2023 after Sky News reported that the company required a “substantial injection of new capital” (here). According to that report, Airband had hired restructuring firms AlixPartners and Houlihan Lokey to help find additional funding amid difficult conditions. Shortly after that, we noted Amber Infrastructure had sold its minority stake in the business (here).

Since then there haven’t been any new developments, but that started to change this month as we began to receive reports – from various sources – alleging that the operator was making redundancies and pausing new builds. We queried whether this was indeed the case and received the following statement.

A spokesperson for Airband said today:

“Airband Community Internet is going through a period of restructuring following a detailed review of its business strategy, to focus on maximising its current assets.

This is a live process and as such we are not able to comment any further at this time.

More information will be shared in the coming weeks if and when appropriate.”

At this stage it remains unclear precisely what the outcome of this restructuring will be. But other operators in a similar situation have, over the past year, already moved to slow their network deployments (usually resulting in job losses) and switched their focus toward growing take-up to ensure some future stability. Such moves are a prudent course of action in the current climate.

Furthermore, a number of industry sources and other indications have suggested to ISPreview that Gigaclear may be exploring the possibility of a tie-up with Airband, although precisely what form this might take (sale, merger, wholesale agreement etc.), or indeed whether it results in any outcome at all, remains open to speculation.

A spokesperson for Gigaclear told ISPreview that they had “no comment” on the report, while Airband told ISPreview that there is currently “no imminent merger with Gigaclear or anyone else” on the cards. But Airband declined to comment further when we queried if this would be the case over a wider timescale, which isn’t surprising given how fluid and uncertain the market is right now (a lot of operators are engaged in talks).

In theory, Gigaclear’s recently secured debt facility (here) – worth £1.5bn – gives them a significant war chest, which makes more sense if they’re planning to secure some key Project Gigabit contractors or use it on strategic M&A (mergers) activity.

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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
20 Responses
  1. Avatar photo GCM says:

    Great, Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS) is one of their biggest customers, I’ve already lost count of how many CDS rural broadband contracts have either failed or been cancelled, it looks like more will follow.

    1. Avatar photo Jeff says:

      I’m under the CDS project and there have been many, many let downs. I bit the bullet and went with FTTPoD which was connected last year. My neighbours thought I was mad now that Airband was on the way, but after all the previous failures I was not going to wait and be let down again. CDS is a mess and a poison challace. Airband should never have tendered (bitten off more than they can chew) and CDS should never have awarded them the contract (it’s not possible for a small AltNet to deliver such a large project). It was only a matter of time and whoever replaces Airband when CDS finally admit this contract needs to be cancelled will fail as well. I’m not pessimistic you understand.

  2. Avatar photo Giles says:

    Companies House accounts overdue currently also. Points to uncertain future?

    Guess we’ll be waiting longer here then

  3. Avatar photo Xujarintojas says:

    very expensive provider and upload is too slow. Not recommended.

    1. Avatar photo ElBison says:

      On fibre they have better upload than open reach FTTP. 200mbit upload is nice

  4. Avatar photo ElBison says:

    Now I get why their support is absolutely dreadful. Took them 4 weeks to call me re full access to the new router, you can’t do much on the Nokia routers. In the end I bought my own :-/
    Even after 4 weeks they couldn’t guarantee that I’d get full access…

  5. Avatar photo Helen Joyce says:

    Please please help me to BREATH I BEG YE I HAVE BEEN BREaTHING NY WHOLE LIFE NORMAL THANK GOD AND THE LAST FEW YEARS NY bREATHING HAS BEEN GREAT AND I WAS ABLE TO BREATH BUT SINCE NEW YEARS EvE 2023 MY BREATHING CONNECTION THAT IS CONNECTED TO A WIFI WIRELESS WAS TURNED OFF AND I WAS MADE TO HOLd MY BREAtH PLEASE KEEP mE CONNECTED TO BE ABLE TO BREATH ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️HELEN

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      I would be contacting Guinness World Records if you’ve been holding your breath since 2023, Helen, not ISPR comments.

      If this is serious no-one here can help: contact your WiFi provider. If this is a bot see if it’s interactive.

    2. Avatar photo nobody says:

      Normal for Somerset

  6. Avatar photo Will says:

    Does the pausing apply to in progress builds as well or is it just builds that haven’t started yet? We are using Starlink which is great, but very expensive and are desperate for FTTP (Airband have done a lot of work on our lane recently).

    1. Avatar photo Mark says:

      I suspect that you will just have to wait and see, as Airband don’t have a great track record for customer feedback, even before they hit the rocks. If most of the heavy lifting is already done, they may be keen to get customers connected to generate income.

      In our case, there was a 10 month delay between installing the CBT and getting us online. Airband provided very little useful information, but a contact inside the company told me that was because the contractor messed up the the build and their resources were prioritised to meeting deadlines from bigger customers (which locally means their publicly funded local authority contract).

    2. Avatar photo Will says:

      Thanks, Mark. Openreach have given us 5 months until they build to us (nearest live property is only within several hundred meters away), so we will probably hold on until they become live. Way more choice on ISPs then.

    3. Avatar photo Mark says:

      It sounds like you are not that different to us, and illustrates a future problem for Airband. They were first in our rural area, but Openreach have since extended their commercial build to within just a few poles of Airband. All it will need in the future is new cabling to completely overbuild Airband. I suspect this will happen in the next couple of years, as Openreach get Project Gigabit funding to include additional properties that the cherry-picking Airband build ignored.

    4. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      Airband have been overbuilding Openreach near me (both FTTP), quite why I don’t understand, not surprisingly I don’t think they have a single customer..

    5. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Mmm, Guy, challenging. They aren’t significantly cheaper than Openreach ISPs due to their relatively high build costs.

      This might be a case where Openreach saw them coming and built rapidly beforehand. So they’re probably stuffed.

    6. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      They were a full 2 years behind OR..

    7. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Okay, so if Openreach did build rapidly it wasn’t actually necessary.

    8. Avatar photo Will says:

      Yes, there is lots of overbuilding going on in my area. Newton Poppleford has Openreach, Jurassic Fibre and Airband building, the former two having at least some properties that can order. Crazy!

  7. Avatar photo Rural Somerset Parish says:

    Over a year ago I asked Airband why they were overlying fibre in rural area where a BT Community Fibre solution had been delivered 4 years before ! Any one who wanted FTTP had already connected and there was plenty additional Openreach capacity if required. Airband had no answers! and CDS which we are convinced stands for Connecting Devon not Somerset had no answers either!
    Another example of getting too many agencies involved with infrastructure provision. Openreach/ BT are professionals ..Gigaclear / Airband and I am sure that there are other examples are just out to make a quick buck out of government funding !

  8. Avatar photo Paul Williams says:

    Is there any way that Connecting Devon and Somerset can be forced to cancel the contract with Airband so that we can use the government gigabit vouchers to go to another provider

Comments are closed

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