CityFibre jumps on the BoJo bus

With Boris Johnson (BoJo) settling into his new home in No.10 Downing Street, CityFibre is one of the first telcos to champion the office of the blonde bombshell.

“As the original champions of full fibre in the UK, we are delighted to see the new Government recognise the vital importance of rolling out this transformational infrastructure, and we stand ready to work with Government to help achieve this vision,” a CityFibre spokesperson stated.

The UK is now entering into the realms of the unknown, though there is one thing which we can be certain of over the next few months; politics is going to have a very different taste with BoJo at the helm. We couldn’t imagine a character more perfectly opposite to former-Prime Minister Theresa May, at least not in the Conservative party anyway.

“Full fibre connectivity is key to introduce a new generation of services, catalyse innovation, promote creativity and drive the economic and social development of the UK,” the statement continues.

What will be interesting to understand is whether the 100% penetration of full-fibre broadband services by 2025, a target hyped by BoJo over the last few weeks, is a genuine ambition or hot air. History has told us that BoJo has a tendency to get a bit over-excited when it comes to facts and figures, and this one might be a little ambitious.

The only certainty is change. BoJo will likely be more aggressive when it comes to Brexit and probably more pandering when it comes to the relationship with the US. BoJo is somewhat of a pet favourite of US President Donald Trump, fighting with former-UKIP leader Nigel Farage for most loving strokes from the Commander in Chief.

Some might say this is a good position for the UK, with Brexit forcing the Government to look further afield for lucrative trade deals, though the Huawei saga will continue. The Supply Chain Review announcement left no-one with clarity over the UKs position, though with BoJo’s White House relationship it might spell trouble. The can has been kicked down the street and it has landed firmly in BoJo’s office.

After a 24-hour period which some media sites have been describing as a ‘Cabinet Massacre’, the industry will also have to get to grips with a new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. MP for Loughborough Nicky Morgan has assumed control of the department, and her CV can tell you why…

After working as a corporate lawyer at Travers Smith specialising in mergers and acquisitions, Morgan moved in-house to corporate law and was then elected as an MP in 2010. Since that point, Morgan has as the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Minister for Women and Equalities, Secretary of State for Education and Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.

Looking through the ‘They work for you’ website, Morgan has not contributed to any discussions which concern technology, media or telecommunications in recent months. An interesting choice for DCMS and an interesting couple of months in store as Morgan gets herself up-to-speed.

CityFibre adds 14 more names to the full-fibre list

CityFibre has entered into the next phase of its challenge to the connectivity status quo with an additional 14 towns and cities to experience the full-fibre euphoria.

Although CityFibre has always presented itself as a challenger to the status quo, it was little more than an also ran until investment found its way across the Atlantic. With capital secured from Goldman Sachs’ Street Infrastructure Partners fund, CityFibre has been buoyed to build out its fibre spine into a genuine connectivity challenger. This latest expansion will take the number of full-fibre deployments across the UK to 26.

“CityFibre’s sole purpose is to deliver the future-proof digital infrastructure the UK deserves,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch.

“With a new Prime Minister set to increase government’s ambitions for the pace of full fibre rollout, we are delighted to welcome another 14 towns and cities to our Gigabit City Club. These Gigabit Cities will not only gain new full fibre networks that will spark their digital transformation, but also unleash the benefits that only competitive infrastructure investment can bring.

“Our rollout to five million homes is gathering momentum. We have now confirmed 26 locations and over two million homes in our programme. We are investing, we are building, and we are connecting customers to networks of the future.”

The new towns and cities on the CityFibre expansion roadmap are; Batley, Bradford, Derby, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Inverness, Ipswich, Leicester, Lowestoft, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Rotherham, Slough, Swindon and Worthing. These new projects will take the number of homes connected by CityFibre to two million, once completed of course, with CityFibre estimating the construction will create 3,5000 jobs.

For the UK, such ambitious moves will be nothing but good news. After ignoring the call for full-fibre connectivity for years, the Government is certainly taking an aggressive approach now. Not only are Openreach and Virgin Media aggressively expanding, numerous other challengers, nicknamed ‘alt-nets’ are providing additional momentum.

CityFibre might be the most recognisable name in the alt-net field, though others such as HyperOptic and Gigaclear are becoming more than a flash in the pan. There might be a need for consolidation in the future, but right now the additional competition is forcing aggressive geographical expansion of full-fibre networks.

CityFibre puts forward the case against telecoms consolidation

Whenever CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch takes the stage at an industry conference you can expect a combative presentation and once again he delivered.

There was of course the customary pop at Openreach and the odd moan about the way fibre is advertised, but the crux of the talk at Connected Britain this morning focused on competition. No-one in the industry is brave enough to suggest competition is bad, but there are nuances to every argument. This nuance from Mesch effectively undermined the recurring argument that consolidation is good.

“Whoever takes over from Sharon White at Ofcom must not only encourage competition but protect it,” Mesch stated.

Competition is a buzzword which can be applied to almost every facet of the industry, and CityFibre has certainly benefitted from the hype. This is not to say the focus from government and regulators to promote competition is the only reason CityFibre is a success, it did after all spot a weakness in the fibre market and aggressively capitalised ahead of Openreach. But a nod to the desire to promote competition should be made.

Intensifying the focus on increasing competition will continue to benefit CityFibre, and arguably it will continue to benefit the UK, however it does present a problem for others in the telco industry. The more successful CityFibre is, the more the argument that CSP consolidation will be a good thing.

“The spark of competition has transformed into a small flame, but that small flame can be snuffed out if not protected,” Mesch stated.

It hasn’t been long since the UK was captured by the Openreach monopoly, and even after Virgin Media entered the fray, the country wasn’t exactly a competitive hotspot. CityFibre has added another dimension and the growth of ‘alt-nets’, such as HyperOptic, is further adding variety.

The UK telco landscape is certainly changing, and CityFibre has evolved as a business. To describe it as a plucky challenge would be a bit unfair nowadays, especially with the financial injection from Antin Infrastructure Partners and Goldman Sachs. Mesch said the board has approved expansion plans, and soon enough CityFibre will have deployed a fibre spine in more than 70 locations around the UK.

The success of CityFibre is arguably a factor which is pushing Openreach towards a fibre-first mentality, perhaps because Mesch and co. proved there was appetite in the market. And elsewhere, there are more competitors appearing on a more regional basis. HyperOptic is gaining scale in London, Toob has a presence in Southampton and Gigaclear is growing in the South-West.

Perhaps most importantly, the alt-nets are now being considered as realistic alternatives.

At the same conference, Sky UK CEO Stephen van Rooyen pointed out the company had unveiled an RFP in March with plans to announce the selected partners in the Summer. Sky is taking an interesting approach here, with plans to work on a regional basis with alt-nets instead of taking a nationwide procurement approach.

Arguably, because of the likes of CityFibre and the increasing popularity of the alt-nets, fibre is being pushed up the agenda and this isn’t even considering the ludicrous and idiotic statements made by Tory Leadership content Boris Johnson.

For the UK Government and regulator, the increasingly prominent role of fibre validates and justifies its pro-competition, anti-consolidation position. If the fibre landscape can benefit from increasing the number of players, the same arguments and theories can be applied elsewhere. This success effectively undermines any pro-consolidation voices which might still exist.

CityFibre bags £1.1bn for nationwide fibre rollout

During yesteryear, CityFibre was known for moaning for the sake of moaning, but in securing a debt package of £1.12 billion, the firm’s ambitions are starting to look very real and very interesting.

Seven banks have financed the transaction, ABN AMRO, Deutsche Bank, Lloyds Bank plc, Natixis, NatWest, Santander and Société Générale, which will serve as the first installment of CityFibre’s £2.5 billion commitment for a nationwide fibre rollout. CityFibre has given itself a target of providing fibre to five million homes, a third of the Government’s target of 15 million, by 2025.

“The appetite from these institutions to support our financing is further evidence that CityFibre’s strategy is the right one for the UK,” said Terry Hart, CityFibre’s CFO.

“As our networks are rolled out, this will benefit everyone, driving innovation and increasing fibre penetration across the UK, providing the future-proof digital connectivity the UK needs. CityFibre’s target to reach five million homes by 2025, as well as thousands of businesses and public-sector sites, will catalyse huge economic growth in regional towns and cities across the country.”

CityFibre made it abundantly clear in its statement that this is an endorsement of the firm’s business model from heavy hitting financial institutions, and perhaps it does indicate a change in attitudes from investors.

Back in October, we attended an investor panel session at Broadband World Forum featuring the likes of the European Investment Bank and also Amber Infrastructure, a specialist venture capitalist firm. The message was clear from this panel session; investors are increasingly happy to fuel fibre rollouts as the business case has been justified and consumer demand has been validated.

This is where CityFibre sits. It doesn’t want to be a telco but become a serious infrastructure player. Owning the relationship with the consumer is of zero interest but creating a nationwide alternative to Openreach and becoming a connectivity wholesaler is the big picture. However, to be considered a viable alternative, there needs to be more of a presence than there is today.

Telcos don’t want to have a patchwork of relationships across a country to meet the connectivity demands. Multiple relationships create more overheads and more opportunity for something to go wrong. CityFibre has made good progress in rolling out fibre spines in numerous areas across the UK, but the gaps will have to be plugged if it wants to be a viable and realistic alternative to Openreach.

That said, CityFibre is looking like a business which has the right ingredients for a market which is primed for disruption. Aggressive ambitions, a head-strong CEO and the confidence of being owned by one of the world’s most powerful businesses. CityFibre is a very strong contender to make a genuine and permanent dent in the connectivity infrastructure game.

And a £1.1 billion investment from seven major financial institutions is a very good place to start.

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.”