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CityFibre backers pump £2.5bn into full-fibre broadband

Network expansion will add 27 towns and cities to CityFibre’s current roll-out to 10 locations in support of a consumer full-fibre service delivered by Vodafone

Full-fibre broadband network builder CityFibre has set out an investment plan to deliver ultrafast services to five million homes around the UK – one-third of those targeted by the government – after receiving a £2.5bn funding injection from its private equity backers Anpin and West Street.

The network expansion will build on its current roll-out to 10 towns and cities in support of a consumer full-fibre service delivered by Vodafone – which has exclusive rights to supply consumer broadband services across the CityFibre network through to 2021. It will add 27 more large towns and cities where CityFibre already has fibre spine assets in place.

The towns and cities already announced are Aberdeen, Cambridge, Coventry, Edinburgh, Huddersfield, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Southend-on-Sea and Stirling. The additional 27 locations are Bath, Batley, Bournemouth, Bracknell, Bradford, Bristol, Crawley, Derby, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Glasgow, Halifax, Harrogate, Leicester, Maidenhead, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northampton, Nottingham, Reading, Rotherham, Sheffield, Slough, Southampton, Swindon, Wakefield and Worthing.

Leeds City Council executive member for resource and sustainability, James Lewis, said: “Encouraging and facilitating investment from private-sector providers like CityFibre is an important part of our strategy to help us realise our ambition that all premises in the district, residential and commercial, are able to access gigabit-capable services and take advantage of new technologies and new ways of living and working.”

Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert added: “This is a major boost for our world-leading digital and high-tech businesses and research organisations wanting to grow and develop in Cambridge. CityFibre has made a major difference to cities by similar investment across the UK and we welcome them to Cambridge and the major extra investment they are bringing.”

As previously explored by Computer Weekly, CityFibre’s network builds adhere to a process it calls the Well-Planned City Model.

In essence, this boils down to intelligent pre-planning that maps out what the backhaul network needs to look like to connect every premises, whether residential, commercial or public sector, to full-fibre broadband, and then building to key anchor tenants – up to now, usually public sector organisations – in  such a way that it can be extended more easily to consumers in the future.

All the while, the company tries to act sensitively towards the needs or quirks of its host city, using local knowledge to anticipate factors such as how digging up a particular street may affect deliveries to businesses, or parents on a school run.

For example, CityFibre’s core Edinburgh build (now a few years old) saw it negotiate arrangements with the council that suspended its work during the busy Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and again at Hogmanay, and take advantage of planned street resurfacing work in some areas to install its fibre.

This approach means that, ultimately, CityFibre should be able to build to every home and business within its footprint, delivering a large-scale, open-access platform that it claims will provide a feasible alternative to the Openreach network for other communication service providers (CSPs) once Vodafone’s exclusivity period is up.

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CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch said the network build would bring £85bn in economic benefits for its selected towns and cities, and create 5,000 construction jobs.

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

“Our roll-out will soon bring to scale an innovative wholesale network, providing internet service providers and mobile network operators with greater choice and unrivalled technical capabilities, benefiting 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.”

Richard Tang, founder and chairman of CSP and network builder Zen Internet, said the investment would be good for UK households in terms of providing more competition for Openreach, which is also building to a number of the locations targeted by CityFibre.

But he warned: “One thing to note is that deploying the infrastructure is, in my view, the smaller part of the problem of providing viable competition to Openreach. The bigger part of the problem is layering a service on top of that infrastructure – something that Openreach has already achieved and refined.

“CityFibre will have their work cut out to deploy the network and develop all the service layers within their stated timescales. Unless they get both aspects right, the competitive threat to Openreach will be very limited. I wish them the best of luck.”

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