Milton Keynes set to be first UK gigabit city

A £40 million investment from CityFibre has potentially positioned Milton Keynes as the first city in the UK to bathe in the wonder that is gigabit-capable full fibre broadband.

The announcement builds on a strategic partnership between Vodafone and CityFibre, which aims to deliver FTTP broadband to one million people in 12 cities across the UK. While there are a lot of hollow promises when it comes to fibre broadband, the pair have stated they will be using fibre-optic cables for every stage of the connection from the customer’s home to the internet.

“Milton Keynes is fast becoming a UK leader for productivity and growth, with its economic prospects only likely to improve following the opening of the East West Rail project,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery. “We believe that residents deserve a digital communications service to match their ambitions. This is why we are providing gigabit-capable connections to transform the way we live and work.”

“The partnership between Vodafone and CityFibre aims to tackle the huge problem the UK faces in terms of digital inadequacy and will help fulfil our vision of a Gigabit Britain,” said Greg Mesch, CEO at CityFibre. “We are at the early stages of creating the Gigabit fibre network that the UK needs and deserves, and with the announcement of Milton Keynes as our first project we are well on our way to making this vision a reality. Full speed ahead.”

While your TV might be bursting with adverts which promise fibre broadband, ‘creative’ marketers has been having their naughty way with claims. Telco marketing departments are seemingly trying to prove themselves on par with Blackadder when it comes to craftiness and cunning. That said, Vodafone and CityFibre have been very clear with their language (as mentioned above); fibre-optic cables for every stage of the connection.

This says it is a genuine FTTH connection, making promises of gigabit speeds more realistic, though how this is rolled out remains to be seen. Milton Keynes currently has a fibre network of roughly 160km, though this will need to be increased to fulfil the ambitions of widespread FTTH connectivity.

It all sounds too good to be true, and there must be a catch somewhere in the small print. We had a chat with Vodafone’s PR team, and it all seems legit. Overall, a good initiative.

First and foremost, Vodafone pointed out this is 100% fibre, not just to the cabinet. It seems to be a reaction to the flak received because of misleading advertising, but it is a very good reaction.

One concern we had was that laying the fibre would have been conditional to the demand from residences, meaning if there wasn’t any demand the pair wouldn’t bother with the fibre. Vodafone pointed out that CityFibre already has a fibre spine throughout the city and will be micro-trenching every street over the next couple of months. This will begin in March and will be a case of systematically working through the city, irrelevant to demand. When a customer signs up, it will be a case of connecting the micro-trench to the customers box.

There are a couple of cases where areas will be prioritized, but this is on the request of the city Council. Certain regions of the city will be hotspots for digital businesses, home workers and start-ups. These are the guys who will be eager for the gigabit speeds to help their businesses grow, so these areas will be top of the list.

Prices are not available at the moment, though Vodafone said it would be very competitive; it ‘wants people to buy it after all’. We were also advised to keep an eye out for future announcements. Vodafone and CityFibre have targeted 12 cities for the gigabit speeds, and while those locations are being kept quiet for the moment, they should be revealed soon.

It will be interesting to see the BT reaction to this announcement. It has been known to over-build its G.Fast network in the locations where Virgin Media has been ramping up its own fibre network, so it might not be unusual to see the former monopoly paying a little bit more attention to Milton Keynes and future Vodafone announcements.