CityFibre pumps £2.5 billion into full-fibre challenge

CityFibre is stealing headlines once again, not trolling the industry this time, but investing £2.5 billion into it fibre network.

With various sized fibre footprints in 37 towns and cities throughout the UK, CityFibre has suggested the cash will be used to create a full-fibre environment. In some areas, such as Milton Keynes, the rollout is already underway, though in cities like Wakefield where the fibre spine is only 36km long, rollout will be accelerated.

“With a head-start in 37 towns and cities, this full fibre investment plan enables us to further accelerate our rollout, catalysing huge economic growth in regional towns and cities across the country and transforming the UK’s digital future,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre.

“Our rollout will soon bring to scale an innovative wholesale network, providing internet service providers and mobile network operators with greater choice and unrivalled technical capabilities, benefitting all sectors of the market. We now need to work together across Government, Ofcom and industry to create a level-playing field that continues to encourage investment from multiple network operators, so that full fibre can be delivered as quickly and effectively as possible.”

With the new cash, and confidence from new owners Antin Infrastructure Partners and West Street Infrastructure Partners, CityFibre plans to deliver full fibre to five million homes, a fifth of the Government’s 2025 target of 15 million. The scale of its plan means it will be awarding city and town-wide construction contracts across the country for several years to come.

While CityFibre is certainly providing viable alternatives to the status quo through its partnership with Vodafone, this investment takes the challenge up a notch. Alt-nets are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world, and CityFibre is flying the flag in the UK.

“Significant investment from new network operators is critical to deliver our ambition for nationwide coverage,” said Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. “Through our Industrial Strategy we’re working with businesses and Ofcom to ensure effective network competition that supports investment on this scale.”

£2.5 billion is a nice big number, and it’s quite refreshing to be able to report about CityFibre on a story where it isn’t antagonising competitors or moaning about not being given an advantage by regulators.

CityFibre taunts rivals with 10 Gbps speeds claim

CityFibre has announced a partnership with Calix to deliver, what it claims, would be the world’s only Software Defined Access (SDA) operating system across, delivering mouth-watering speeds across its fibre network.

With Calix’s AXOS platform, CityFibre is confident it will be able to claim to be the UK’s only advanced-intelligence, wholesale infrastructure company. With a Software Defined Networking (SDN) ecosystem, delivering new levels of programmability, network intelligence and automation, CityFibre claims it will be similar to owning the network, but without the upfront capital risk.

“In Calix we have found a like-minded ally, an innovator that is pushing the boundaries of what is possible when intelligent software meets fibre-only infrastructure,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch.

“Our partnership enables us to unleash the full power and potential of our fibre networks, creating the nation’s fastest, smartest and most accessible, digital communications platform. The ability to scale services up to 100 gigabits per second, while driving customer experience to new levels, highlights the inadequacies of connections that are passed off as fibre today. It also shows that not all full fibre networks are equal and that, as an alternative network builder, CityFibre’s commitment to the UK’s digital future goes far beyond simply putting fibre in the ground.”

And while this might seem like a very sensible announcement for the often combative CityFibre, it has stoked the fire. Through the integration of the Calix platform, CityFibre believes it will be capable of delivering parallel 10 Gbps connections to every home and business, with further potential for speeds of up to 100 Gbps.

“The Calix and CityFibre visions of a software defined access future are perfectly aligned,” said Michael Weening, Calix EVP of field operations. “CityFibre built its network from the beginning to take advantage of all that a fibre infrastructure can enable, while we built AXOS with the intelligence to take that foundation to the next level.

“With AXOS, CityFibre can more rapidly deliver new products, services and features to the market, further distancing itself from legacy competitive offerings that fail to enable true market differentiation. As we continue to innovate on the AXOS platform, the continued speed, agility and efficiencies we enable will allow CityFibre and its partners to change the UK’s broadband market forever.”

CityFibre research says UK is doing terrible job at connectivity

Research commissioned by serial-moaner and sh*t-stirrer CityFibre claims the UK is falling way back in the connectivity ranks, with broadband slower than on Madagascar.

We strongly suspect the wording of the research twisted certain perspectives and answers, CityFibre does of course gain from frowns directed at the mainstream telcos, but it is not difficult to believe the statistics. The research suggests the UK ranks 35th in the world for broadband speeds, as the country still relies too much on copper infrastructure instead of the futuristic fibre alternative.

“For too long the UK has been held back by a deliberate lack of investment by BT Openreach in fibre infrastructure,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre. “Although companies like CityFibre are building the networks that will give millions of homes and businesses access to full fibre broadband, providers continuing to advertise copper-based connections as ‘fibre’ is leaving people completely confused about what is on offer.

“With the way we work increasingly blending our home and work lives, it has never been more important for people to understand what broadband connection they really get at home.”

Looking at the research statistics, 78% of the respondents feel slowed down and frustrated by their internet connection, a number which increases to 82% with homeworkers. Again, these figures will have been twisted by the working of the questions, but as a homeworker your correspondent can confirm this is an issue. 99% of those who work from agree a faster internet connection would be more beneficial to their working lives.

The benefits of working from home are clear, though connectivity barriers are starting to become more apparent. The intensity of work programmes will soon get to a point where copper based infrastructure becomes more than a hindrance. Unfortunately for the UK, fewer than 4% of homes currently have a fibre connection, and that is using statistics from the government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR). This 4% compares to 71% of homes in Spain and 89% of homes in Portugal.

The extremity of what CityFibre is saying should be taken with a pinch of salt, the picture of Coppersaurus is a prime example of trolling behaviour from the telco, but it is not wrong. The UK is falling behind, and while the FTIR does look promising, now is the time for action not more investigations. As Matthew Howett of Assembly said at this years Connected Britain event:

“If you could rollout out connectivity through reports and investigations, Britain would have faster broadband than Japan and Korea.”

UK government unveils its cunning plan for future telecoms

Some UK officials had a bit of a think about telecoms infrastructure and were so pleased with the outcome they wrote it down and published it.

Whitehall’s condensed telecoms wisdom has manifested itself in the form of the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review – a 90-page brain dump full of top tips on how to make the UK better at telecoms, with a heavy emphasis on ‘full fibre’. Only this, it seems, will keep our national pipes healthy and regular.

We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel,” said new Secretary of State for this sort of thing Jeremy Wright. “This radical new blueprint for the future of telecommunications in this country will increase competition and investment in full fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure for 5G.”

Sounds good Jezza, so let’s take a closer look. Here are the key recommendations from the report:

  • New legislation that will guarantee full fibre connections to new build developments;
  • Providing operators with a ‘right to entry’ to flats, business parks, office blocks and other tenanted properties to allow those who rent to receive fast, reliable connectivity, from the right supplier at the best price;
  • Reforms to the regulatory environment for full fibre broadband that will drive investment and competition and is tailored to different local market conditions;
  • Public investment in full fibre for rural areas to begin simultaneously with commercial investment in urban locations;
  • An industry led switchover (from copper to full fibre) coordinated with Ofcom;
  • A new nationwide framework which will reduce the costs, time and disruption caused by street-works by standardising the approach across the country;
  • Increased access to spectrum for innovative 5G services
  • Infrastructure (including pipes and sewers) owned by other utilities such as power, gas and water, should be easy to access, and available for both fixed and mobile use;
  • Ofcom to reform regulation, allowing unrestricted access to Openreach ducts and poles for both residential and business use, including essential mobile infrastructure;
  • Alongside the FTIR, Government has also published a Digital Infrastructure Toolkit which will allow mobile networks to make far greater use of Government buildings to boost coverage across the UK.

To be fair there do seem to be some genuinely useful measures in that list. Improved access to sites is something regularly called for by operators and if that, together with a significantly more benign regulatory environment, is actually delivered, then telcos will have far fewer excuses for not just cracking on with the job. Having said that the obligation for new builds to have full fibre connections could further inhibit that already feeble industry.

“We welcome the government’s review, and share its ambition for full-fibre and 5G networks to be rolled out right across the UK,” said Ofcom Chief Exec Sharon White. “The government and Ofcom are working together, and with industry, to help ensure people and businesses get the broadband and mobile they need for the 21st century.”

The ‘notes to Editors’ at the end of the press release seek to further illustrate what a great idea ‘full fibre’ (i.e. FTTP) is. In a blow to technologies such as Gfast they note that running fibre and copper in parallel is inefficient. They also reckon that ‘if we get the conditions right’ the market should deliver 80% FTTP coverage (Portugal is already at 89%), despite onlt being at 4% right now.

The company largely responsible for delivering 20x more fibre than we currently have will be Openreach. “We’re encouraged by the government’s plan to promote competition, tackle red tape and bust the barriers to investment,” said an Openreach spokesperson. “As the national provider, we’re ambitious and want to build full fibre broadband to 10 million premises and beyond – so it’s vital that this becomes an attractive investment without creating digital inequality or a lack of choice for consumers and businesses across the country.”

The report doesn’t quantify the total number of premises in the UK but it does say around a million currently have FTTP, and since that represents 4% of the total that gives us 25 million premises. In turn that means Openreach’s lofty ambition would still only get us half way to 80% so there remains a lot of work to be done.

A lot of that, it seems, will be done by CityFibre, which is aiming to connect 20% of the country to fibre by 2025. “Today marks the day the government decided once and for all to leave copper behind and commit the UK to a full fibre future, making clear that a new generation of infrastructure builders is the vehicle for delivering its bold ambition for all homes and businesses to be connected to full fibre by 2033, not just Openreach,” said Mark Collins, Director of Strategy at CityFibre.

“However, it is critical that the consumer is at the heart of this fantastic opportunity from the start, as this is the key to unlocking demand. That means avoiding price rises, ensuring switching between networks is simple and ending the years of misleading ‘fake fibre’ advertising. Getting both sides of the equation right is key to ensuring millions of homes and businesses will benefit – we now need to see the Government and Ofcom push these plans through.”

CityFibre isn’t the only independent fixed infrastructure player to cautiously welcome the report, but with an air of ‘I’ll believe it when I see it. “We welcome the Government’s statement today that a switchover from hybrid to full fibre networks could be underway in the majority of the country by 2030. But the devil is in the detail,” said Evan Wienburg, CEO of full fibre infrastructure provider TrueSpeed.

“While the Government is right to state that a full-throttle drive to nationwide full fibre connectivity requires competition and commercial investment to succeed, a fair and equitable playing field for all infrastructure providers is essential,” said  This has not always been the case. There are numerous examples of tax payers’ money being wasted by national incumbent providers building FTTC/FTTP networks in areas where privately funded infrastructure providers have already deployed.”

Coinciding with the publication of this report is the formation of a pan-European alliance of indie fibre providers, including CityFibre. Its aim seems to be to promote the wholesale-only model and make sure fibre means fibre in broadband advertising. The alliance doesn’t seem to have a name yet but something like the Fibre Union of Connectivity Kings might do the trick.

At the very least this report and its recommendations give outfits like CityFibre a concrete set of parameters to refer to when embarking on one of their regular moans about how unfair the UK infrastructure market is. It looks like the government is committed to doing everything it can to encourage fibre investment and it should definitely be held to account for that over the coming years.

Most people think ‘fibre’ means FTTP – survey

A survey commissioned by UK fibre challenger CityFibre found that most people think fibre should mean fibre, which seems fair enough.

The research was conducted by Censuswide, who surveyed 3,400 UK broadband punters. 24% of respondents reckoned their broadband consisted of fibre all the way to the premise, even though only 3% of the UK currently has that privilege. Furthermore 45% of them assumed a service advertised as fibre meant fibre all the way, rather than just to the cabinet or whatever.

CityFibre is in the process of taking the Advertising Standards Agency to Court as it disputes its conclusion that ‘fibre’ is not a misleading term in broadband adverts when used to describe hybrid copper-fibre connections. That seems like a reasonable objection and is clearly the reason it commissioned this survey.

But CityFibre isn’t entirely innocent of a spot of misleading itself. The press release announcing this survey was headlined ‘Two thirds of broadband customers believe “fibre” should mean fibre-to-the-premises in ads’, but then offers no data points to support that claim. The closest one is the finding that 65% of respondents ‘didn’t think their current connection relied on copper cables or hybrid copper-fibre’.

There’s also this: While just under two thirds (65%) said their broadband provider had described their connection as “fibre”, only 1 in 6 (17%) thought this connection would include copper cables. But that’s still not consistent with the headline. People in glass houses…

“We are calling on all broadband providers to stop using the word ‘fibre’ unless it is describing a full fibre connection,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre. “Rather than waiting for the backward-looking ASA to be forced to act, the industry should stand as one and pave the way for a new generation of connected homes, businesses, towns and cities across the UK.”

Mesch and CityFibre have a long history of agitating about the US fibre environment and usually manage to diminish their point by overdoing it. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong and in this case they definitely have a point. Calling a service ‘fibre’ clearly infers it’s fibre all the way. If it’s hybrid then that should be represented in the name, regardless of what ISP marketing manager want.

UK is getting worse at broadband – study

Cable.co.uk has published its latest worldwide broadband speed league and found the UK is worse than 34 other countries.

Our average broadband speed of 18.57 Mbps puts us 35th out of the 200 countries measured in the study, down from 31 the last time it was done. Singapore is the best at 60 Mbps, while Yemen can only manage 310 Kbps. You can check out all the data here.

“It’s been very interesting looking at the data for a second year running, not least because we have three times as much of it this time around,” said Cable.co.uk Analyst Dan Howdle. “It is, however, somewhat sad to see the UK not faring better. A number of other countries have leapfrogged us since last year, including France and Madagascar.

“Compared to many other countries both in and out of Europe the UK has simply come too late to a full fibre (FTTP) solution. Despite plans to roll out FTTP to UK homes across the next decade or so, the UK is likely to fall further behind while we wait.”

CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch served up his tried and tested angle. “Seeing the UK falling even further behind other EU countries for broadband speed is depressing but not surprising, given the UK’s lack of investment in fibre to the premises and other nations’ new networks increasingly coming online,” he persisted.

“Companies are now investing billions to bring this technology to the UK, but this will only be successful with the Government’s full support. The place to start is putting a stop to the misleading use of the word fibre in broadband advertising, so that consumers know that when they see fibre, it is a fibre to the premises connection they are buying. Copper is dead: it is time for the UK to embrace full fibre – no ifs, no buts.”

Will the UK ever agree on the internet?

This week Telecoms.com has 16 year-old Shannon O’Connor joining the team for work experience, and today’s ‘thrilling’ task is to join Jamie at the Connected Britain event in London. Here are her thoughts. 

With the Connected Britain event bringing together executives from TalkTalk, CityFibre and Openreach, as well as government representatives, the question still remains as to whether they will be able to work collaboratively to progress?

As the speakers continue to roll out their plans for an accelerated investment in high capacity networking across the UK, there still seems to be a lot of busywork.

“If you could rollout out connectivity through reports and investigations, Britain would have faster broadband than Japan and Korea,” said Matthew Howett of Assembly, the chair at this year’s event.

But is there any action?

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James highlighted the inequality of connectivity not being reached within the rural areas of the UK. As major towns and cities continue to prosper and develop, those living in the outskirts face difficulties in sustaining accessible, basic broadband. Something which interested attendees intently as plans begin to emerge for infrastructure collaboration.

However, in the following panel it was clear that collaboration would not only create conflicting ideas between competitors but also allow those to question whether proper competition could ever come while working hand in hand.

Emerging from what the speakers said at the conference was quite simply uncertainty. There had been too much discussion and not enough action in developing fibre broadband within the public sector and beyond in the UK. There doesn’t seem to be any consistency or coherence; it seems asking adults to be mature and agree on a logical path is too much (and that’s coming from a teenager – Ed.).

As our Europe counterpart continues to prosper both economically and industrially, the UK continues to fall further behind because of an inability to agree.

Stirling gets a spoonful of CityFibre

MLL Telecom and CityFibre have announced a new partnership to deliver gigabit fibre connections to local businesses over a new fibre network being built by the latter.

The new offering, FibreConnect, was announced during Stirling Business Week, and will build on initiatives made by the city to become more agile and increase productivity by embracing technologies such as cloud computing software, high quality video conferencing and smart office appliances. The CityFibre fibre network currently spans 24km from Bannockburn to the Stirling Agricultural centre.

The FibreConnect offer provides Internet access at speeds of 100Mbps, 500Mbps and 1000Mbps as either a monitored or fully managed service, with the promise of zero buffering. The men and women of Stirling can search for as many Haggis recipes as their hearts desire.

“Stirling is a city with big ambitions and its 3000-strong business community is no different,” said Jeremy Wastie, Head of New Business, Public Sector at MLL Telecom. “We are excited to be a driving force in aiding the city’s entrepreneurial business growth. Our ultrafast FibreConnect services will give local businesses the much-needed connectivity speeds to boost productivity and create new jobs that will ultimately benefit the entire community.”

“Full fibre is the gold standard in digital connectivity and a ‘must have’ foundation for growth and development in the digital age,” said James McClafferty, Head of regional development at CityFibre. “This makes it an especially vital asset for thriving cities like Stirling, which is ambitious to become a hotbed for digital innovation, new start-ups and business growth.”

“Businesses in Stirling have been crying out for greater digital infrastructure that can support their ambitious growth plans for some time,” said Gordon Bell, CEO of local business support organisation, STEP. “It’s very exciting to hear that ‘Gigabit City’ status will put Stirling ahead of the game in the UK for connectivity, allowing these businesses to not only grow but to take their business to the next level.”

Stirling has been receiving a fair bit of attention recently after Vodafone continued the rollout of its Gigabit broadband services in the city. Stirling is now the seventh of twelve cities to benefit from the Vodafone and CityFibre challenge to the traditional broadband players.

CityFibre catches the attention of Wall Street with £537 million takeover

CityFibre has agreed to an £537 million all-cash takeover offer from a US infrastructure investment consortium, backed by some of Wall Street’s heaviest hitters. It turns out loud, attention-seeking behaviour sometimes works.

The investment consortium, Bidco, backed by the likes of Rothschild and Goldman Sachs, has pitched the offer as a 93% premium on the closing share price on April 23, another example of the growing popularity of ‘altnets’ in the UK who are enhancing connectivity in areas neglected by Openreach. Yesterday saw Community Fibre, a London-based full-fibre ISP, receive £18 million from the National Digital Infrastructure Fund (NDIF) as the ecosystem seemingly tries to reduce reliance on the BT-owned wholesaler.

“CityFibre has established itself as a leading independent provider of wholesale fibre infrastructure in the UK and has been on a transformational journey since its IPO in 2014,” said Chris Stone, Chairman of CityFibre. “Your board believes that this transaction represents compelling value for CityFibre’s existing shareholders and is also a good solution for CityFibre’s long-term funding.

“Under private ownership, CityFibre will be able to gain alternative and potentially easier access to the financing required for its announced FTTH deployment. This will strengthen the Company’s ability to deliver on its vision to provide full fibre infrastructure to 20% of the UK market.”

The investment consortium is jointly owned by Goldman Sachs’ West Street Infrastructure Partners and private equity firm Antin, bringing together a range of investment partners including Greenhill, Rothschild, Finncap and Liberum. Antin, an infrastructure specialist investment fund, has a history of investing in the telecom sector with investments in Dutch and Belgian fibre-network owner EuroFibre, as well as a now-realised investment in Spanish broadcasting and telecommunications firm Axión.

CityFibre was founded in 2011, positioning itself as an alternative provider of connectivity in comparison to the stodgy incumbents. Initially the focus was on developing a full-fibre network in York, but acquisitions and ambitions took the firm to other under-served cities across the UK. While it is a firm which is primarily known for complaining, in the background it has been very effectively building out fibre networks in some of the UK’s areas of poorer connectivity. The firm currently has fibre assets, of varied size, in roughly 40 cities and towns around the UK which has led to what is looking like a very useful partnership with Vodafone.

The partnership with Vodafone has seen the pair announce three gigacities with plans for nine more in the pipeline. The proposition here is simple; CityFibre and Vodafone will link every home in the selected cities with full-fibre connectivity, irrelevant of demand or pre-orders, offering an alternative to Openreach. Thus far Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Aberdeen have gotten the fibre treatment, though future plans are being kept secret. All of these cities have poor download speeds, a CityFibre presence and a strong presence in the digital community, so it isn’t incredibly difficult to figure out where will be next; here is our attempt at guessing.

The underlying tone of frustration with Openreach has been building for years. Complaints about preferential treatment and under-investment led to the split of Openreach from BT, though it still remains a wholly-owned entity, and Ofcom rules to open up the poles and ducts for competitor ISPs, as well as the increasing popularity of alternative connectivity providers. Wall Street investors are pretty smart individuals so it shouldn’t be surprising they recognised an opportunity in CityFibre.

Peterborough becomes Vodafone’s third gigabit city

Vodafone and CityFibre have jointly announced Peterborough as the next beneficiary of the city-wide roll-out of full fibre infrastructure, after similar projects were announced in Milton Keynes and Aberdeen in recent weeks.

The pair have been working on the promise to deliver full fibre connectivity in 12 cities and reaching one million homes across the UK by 2021, and Peterborough is lucky enough to be on the list. CityFibre has already laid a fibre spin throughout the city measuring 120km, but now the work will begin trenching each street with services set to be available for businesses and customers in early 2019.

“We want to reinvent the home broadband experience,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery. “We were the first broadband provider to abolish line rental, we now guarantee line speeds, and from next year, we will offer customers in Peterborough Vodafone Gigafast Broadband. It will revolutionise the way people live and work, from better home entertainment, to remote healthcare monitoring and improved student access to core educational services. I am delighted that Peterborough is poised to become a UK digital leader.”

“Peterborough is the perfect demonstration of the benefits a third competitive digital infrastructure brings the UK market,” said Greg Mesch, CEO at CityFibre. “Our network has delivered superior services, at a lower cost than BT Openreach. It has fuelled economic growth, innovation and inward investment and paved the way for us to bring full fibre to the entire city. Lessening dependence on BT Openreach and Virgin is not only good for Peterborough, its residents and businesses, it is critical for the UK as a whole.”

Part of the reason we like this initiative is that is seems to be a very genuine one. While other providers will begin work in your area once enough residences have signed up or enough deposits have been paid, this one seems clear of conditions. Vodafone and CityFibre will build the network and then market it. It is the ‘built it and they will come’ mentality which is so rare in the telco world.

Hopefully this attitude will encourage other providers to be more aggressive and risk-savvy when it comes to rolling out fibre infrastructure which the UK so desperately needs. Penetration of full fibre is incredibly low in comparison to other nations, and if the UK wants to remain relevant in the digital world of tomorrow, suitable infrastructure is critical. The copper-based network that the vast majority of us rely on right now is not good enough.

Peterborough looked to be a perfect opportunity for Vodafone when we first had a crack at guessing where the next gigacity would be. It currently has low broadband speeds, CityFibre had removed a lot of the risk through already having the fibre spine in place, and the demand is certainly there. Peterborough has been recognised internationally as one of the leading smart cities, with projects which will only going upwards with the new infrastructure.

The Midlands has got a suitable amount of attention now, and Aberdeen ticks the Scottish box for the moment, so we would expect either the South or the North of England to be next on the Vodafone/CityFibre road trip. We would like to say Wales, but Newport is the only place where CityFibre currently has a presence and its only 7km of fibre.

Next best guess would probably be York or Leeds up North, 153km and 117km of fibre laid respectively, or the 71km which has been laid in Portsmouth. York is best bet considering the network, slow average broadband speeds (13 Mbps), a wealthy population, a good university, growing smart city initiatives and commercial ambition of local politicians.