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ISP WeFibre Pulls Out of Some Rural FTTP Broadband Builds

Saturday, Feb 10th, 2024 (12:01 am) - Score 3,400
Telcom-WeFibre-Engineers-looking-at-pole

Several years have now passed since UK ISP WeFibre (Telcom Group) announced its plan to “aggressively” deploy a gigabit-capable full fibre broadband network across rural parts of Northumberland, Cumbria, North West England, and Central and North Wales (here). But some projects in Wales have now been told that the work will not proceed.

The original roll-out plan – backed by investment from Gresham House – was full of ambition and, at one point, even spoke of a very aspirational goal to cover 1 million UK premises with their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network by the end of 2023 (here). But since 2021 we’ve seen very little in the way of progress updates from WeFibre, although the operator has not been standing still.

NOTE: Customers tend to pay just £35 per month on a 12-month term (plus £49 installation) for a 900Mbps package with an included router (even less if they sign-up ahead of launch).

So far as we can tell, WeFibre have already done a fair bit of building in several locations, such as Bellingham, Haydon Bridge, Acomb and Wylam in Northern England, as well as Llandovery, Llanybydder, Llanrhystud and Pontrhydfendigaid in Wales. But there may well be other locations where they’ve already gone live.

However, we’ve recently begun to receive feedback from concerned residents in a number of locations around Ceredigion, many of which had long been part of planned deployments by WeFibre – often with support from the Government’s broadband voucher scheme. According to the feedback, these builds have now been unceremoniously dropped, with locals typically receiving the following email.

Copy of WeFibre’s Email to Project Supporters

Your order has been cancelled

Hi XXXXXXXXXXX,

Your recent order has been cancelled by a member of the WeFibre team.

The following reason was provided for the cancellation:

Sorry we have had to cancel your order, this is due to us not reaching the threshold of orders required to build out to your address, this also means the required funding could not be achieved to allow us to continue the build. Apologies for any disappointment this causes, we will send out a full explanation via email shortly. Kind regards, Neil

Admittedly, it’s not unusual for individual voucher-based schemes to run into problems with attracting interest, but such things are usually much more isolated. In this case the feedback was indicating that the problems were impacting a wider area (Cwrtnewydd, Llanybydder etc.).

The situation was further underlined after an assistant for Ben Lake, the Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, emailed worried residents in several areas to say: “Unfortunately, we have been informed by WeFibre that they will not be carrying out any further infrastructure and building work in most of their project areas in Ceredigion … They insist that this is due to the complexity of the build and the rising cost of connecting remote premises.”

In addition, some of the residents in WeFibre’s active build areas in Wales have noted other concerns: “I have been active from the beginning of the Broadband Upgrade Fund trying to get people to sign up and register for the vouchers, at one stage we had over 100 expressions of interest. But with the exceptionally slow build, continually missed deadlines and encroachment by Openreach, I know a lot of people lost faith in WeFibre and didn’t then finally sign up,” said one frustrated resident.

Similarly, another resident, Charles Green, said: “Over the last four years WeFibre have promised the world but in reality delivered very little, concentrating their efforts on village locations where BT were already delivering, not the rural community who desperately need a decent connection and what these vouchers were for!

According to data released by the government’s Building Digital UK agency last August, as few as 70 premises in the Ceredigion constituency have claimed and received payment for a voucher through the scheme (via any operator), for a combined value of over £120,000. Suffice to say, this figure is quite low given some of the plans that had previously been made.

A Spokesperson for WeFibre told ISPreview:

“Where WeFibre have decided to construct networks and thus connect residential customers, these areas are under constant review and feasibility is based upon the commercial considerations of subsidiary available, the cost of build and the overall penetration of the target area which subsequently provide us with a return on investment.

Within some areas we have seen an extremely low connection rate of the network so far installed. This, coupled with insufficient demand has therefore made it commercially unviable at this time to continue to add further connections, although we continue to review the position.

We understand the frustration and disappointment this may cause, and we are proactively communicating with residents in the affected areas.”

The rising cost of build has, over the past year, become a particularly notable problem, which has contributed to a number of build suspensions and job cuts at various UK network operators. Suffice to say that WeFibre are not immune to the current climate or its many other competitive pressures, such as the need to generate a strong level of take-up and the difficulty of raising fresh investment during a period of high interest rates.

The focus will now switch to the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit broadband roll-out programme, which is understood to be including poorly served parts of the Ceredigion constituency, particularly locations south of the Aberaeron-Tregaron area, into a future call-off as part of a cross-regional framework (Type C).

The idea of a Type C procurement is to appoint a single supplier to target premises (i.e. subsidise the design, build and operation of a new gigabit network) in areas where no or no appropriate market interest has been expressed before to BDUK, or areas that have been de-scoped or terminated from a prior plan.

Such areas are often skipped due to being too expensive (difficult) for other, often smaller, suppliers to tackle. But the catch with a “single supplier framework” is that there may only be very few operators that could tackle such a large commitment (Openreach, Nexfibre etc.). On the other hand, if there are no other viable alternatives left, then the Type C approach may be the only option for some areas. The wait goes on.

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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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15 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ben says:

    Whilst most of Wylam is now covered, there were several streets that were still waiting to be connected. Those residents have now been refunded and told the build won’t reach them.

    Thankfully for those residents Nexfibre has recently gone live in the last month or two as well.

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      The population density in much of Wales is very low. Having competing operators undermines the economics of it

    2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Also the terrain of much of Wales is very difficult to build infrastructure. Apart from the A55 corridor along the north coast and the M4 corridor along the south coast, in-between is very poorly served and difficult to build to.

    3. Avatar photo Jonathan says:

      @Bod and @BigDave Wylam is not in Wales, it is in Northumberland in the North East of England and is famous for being the birthplace of George Stephenson.

  2. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

    Given how little they have rolled out, perhaps a name change to WeeFibre would be more appropriate.

    1. Avatar photo John says:

      Nah considering this failure, wefibre, the socialist version of Youfibre, is spot on accurate

    2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      If Openreach does it or doesn’t want to do certain areas, that is a different thing because it is commercially viable.

      It is easy to see the Openreach fanboys on here.

    3. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

      @ad47UK
      You and I have no idea if Openreach will or will not provide commercial FTTP in any of the WeFibre areas.
      What is public knowledge is that Openreach will be covering 30m premises in their rollout and that some people must be last. They cannot be everywhere at the same time.

      My OC was a little light humour and a pun on the company’s name given theri current change in plans.

    4. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      We don’t know if Openreach will or will not provide commercial FTTP in any of the WeFibre areas, but Openreach do pick their areas carefully and will avoid places which are not viable to them as a business unless they get money from let’s say the Goverment or the time when money was sliced off the top of the TV licence or when council tax is used.

      So if a large company like Openreach picks and chooses then you should be able to understand why small companies do.

      But then as I said, this place is full of openreach fanboys.

  3. Avatar photo Oggy says:

    WeDon’tFibre

  4. Avatar photo A Frustrated Resident says:

    The whole point of the various funding schemes provided by both Westminster and Cardiff here in Wales is to subsidise the network build for communities where the incumbent supplier (Openreach) has failed to connect. Unfortunately the existing speed stipulation on the schemes meant that areas already serviced by adequate (or now anyway) FTTC were in scope – typically in rural villages. The people who are desperate and have to date been failed by all suppliers are those outside the villages still getting by on ADSL connections < 5mbps.

    For those not familiar with rural Wales, we are not talking about remote mountain tops, we are most often talking of people living only a couple of miles outside their local village. This also isn't a build from scratch exercise – all these properties, even the most remote already have electricity and copper phone lines run on roadside poles so it just needs the fibre running.

    Back in 2017 Openreach received huge chunks of money to run fibre, however again the parameters must have rewarded them for "passing" properties not connecting them as rural Ceredigion is still littered with unconnected coils of fibre hung from poles, in some cases they have run the fibre miles up lanes just to leave it coiled 2 poles from the property. As part of this funding scheme Openreach installed fibre and a pole top box outside my house but despite almost monthly "expressing an interest" on their website it has never been lit. In 2023 WeFibre ran their own fibre to the same pole, installed their own pole top box and connected me.

    This is the mess we are in rurally and much of the blame is a complete lack of local involvement, management and accountability from the subsidy funding bodies. The DCMS called the Broadband Upgrade Fund, where Ceredigion was a pilot, a "success" and moved on yet as is mentioned, less than 100 properties have been connected out of the many hundreds who signed up. Government is only concerned about the big number that they can put in the PR release – the £5bn available and the x hundred thousand connections, so with 1 hard to reach rural property "counting" the same as one on an estate next to the exchange it is easy to see why these schemes are failing the desperate people in rural locations they are designed to help.

    1. Avatar photo Calvin H says:

      I don’t think it’s even about being outside of a rural village, it’s more to do with how cheap/easy the work can be carried out.

      I live in a smallish village in North Wales with around 600 residential properties, now most of the village has FTTP, mainly due to majority being served overhead and one estate which is fairly new having ducting in place for all properties.

      Our estate was built in the early 70s and sadly all the copper was buried under gardens, driveways, paths, etc.
      Recently I had a new line installed and the civil team put down a duct to serve my property, but that was a full day’s work. At the scale of around 100 properties that’s far more work than stringing fibre pole to property for the rest of the village.

      5 miles down the road OR installed FTTP(overhead) up a 2 mile single track lane to serve around 8 properties, while at the bottom of that lane they ignored 20 which was a mix of overhead and buried lines.

      It’s not about being in the middle of no where, it comes down to how easily the work can be carried out to boost numbers

  5. Avatar photo Colin says:

    3/4 of a mile from Cwrtnewydd, Open Reach fibre up all the poles but never connected to any premises. WeFibre strung us along for ages then we got the news that they never would connect us. This stuff needs to be nationalised.

    1. Avatar photo A Frustrated Resident says:

      @Colin – unfortunately our political class (and voters) are miles away from that – what is needed is better scrutiny and control over private companies who are receiving subsidy. For DCMS/BDUK these projects were “authorised” by civil servants in Westminster but with zero local oversight and no penalty for not completing.
      I can sympathise a little that there were massive cost increases after the voucher values were individually set for the projects and funding is only released on connection. However, WeFibre have done nothing locally to engage in person, all that was done by the local communities – other suppliers, including Openreach have engaged in door-knocking exercises to promote their projects.

  6. Avatar photo Jon Snow says:

    I believe from speaking to someone in the know that We Fibre would have happily continued build however, their investors Gresham House like so many other investors don’t want to continue investing in build. Blame can only be apportioned to the investors in reality.

Comments are closed

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