CityFibre grabs further slice of Project Gigabit network expansion

UK’s largest independent network provider wins £318m in new contracts as part of £5bn UK national gigabit broadband scheme

CityFibre has been awarded three new contracts to subsidise the roll-out of gigabit-capable infrastructure to 218,000 rural properties in Norfolk, Suffolk and Hampshire.

Project Gigabit was put in place in 2021 to accelerate the UK’s recovery from Covid-19, fire-up high-growth sectors such as tech and the creative industries, and level-up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs across Britain. At launch, the UK government said the projects it funds will prioritise areas that currently have slow connections and would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ plans.

The delivery plan for Project Gigabit is a response by the UK government to its public consultation, Planning for gigabit delivery in 2021, which sought views on how to spend its £5bn funding commitment for gigabit broadband in hard-to-reach areas, complementing industry investment from the likes of Openreach and Virgin Media to ensure these harder-to-reach areas benefit from the same gigabit broadband as the rest of the country.

By the end of 2025, the government is aiming for 85% of the UK to have gigabit-capable connectivity, and then nationwide coverage by 2030. According to Building Digital UK’s (BDUK) latest Project Gigabit progress update, across the UK, 76% of premises are currently able to access gigabit-capable broadband, up from 6% in early 2019.

As the drive to deliver gigabit-capable connections intensifies, over recent months, several multi-million pound local and regional Project Gigabit contracts have been awarded, covering locations including Cumbria, North Dorset, rural Teesdale, North Northumberland and, in January 2023, Cornwall. Areas including Hampshire, Shropshire, Norfolk and Suffolk are all in line for contract awards by summer 2023. In May 2023, CityFibre won the rights to a contract to subsidise a £122m roll-out of wholesale full-fibre to up to 45,000 rural homes and business in Cambridgeshire.

The three new contracts, awarded under a competitive process and totalling £318m of government subsidy, will be supported by an additional private investment from CityFibre of £170m, delivering a combined total investment in the project of £488m.

CityFibre will continue to expand and densify its existing network footprint alongside the Project Gigabit programme. This will see CityFibre now extend its roll-out to an additional 283,000 homes across Norfolk, Suffolk and Hampshire within its roll-out programme, bringing the total targeted premises unlocked by the new awards to more than 500,000.

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CityFibre has secured four Project Gigabit contract awards to date, totalling £387m in government subsidies to reach 262,000 homes. This has been supported by nearly £223m of committed private investment from CityFibre, representing a combined total investment in Project Gigabit’s target areas of £610m.

Survey work has already started, with the first gigabit installations expected early in 2024 and the first live connections expected by summer of that year. Once connected, residents and businesses across Norfolk, Suffolk and Hampshire will enjoy access to broadband services over a network capable of supporting XGS-PON technology, capable of supporting speeds of up to 10Gbps. In particular, around 62,000 homes and businesses in Norfolk stand to benefit from £114m of Project Gigabit investment, across locations including Buxton, Castle Acre and Horning. A further 8,000 premises in the northwest of the county are being reviewed for inclusion subject to survey in the next six months.

Commenting on the deployment in her county, Jane James, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for corporate services and innovation, said: “We are thrilled that Norfolk will benefit from such a big investment in our digital infrastructure. As a rural county, with numerous small towns and villages, we can often feel left behind with slower internet speeds, but to increase speed and reliability in the network for over 60,000 homes and businesses is a great step in the right direction.”

Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council, added: “As a rural county, we welcome the announcement of £100m for providing fast, reliable broadband to some 80,000 premises across Suffolk. This will build on our Better Broadband for Suffolk programme, which has helped to deliver wider access to superfast broadband.

“Not only will this investment in our digital infrastructure help to keep our residents connected, but, since many of Suffolk’s small businesses are operated from households across the county, it is essential for the future of the local economy,” he said.

Assessing the deal, Stephen Kingdom, CTO at Xantaro,  a supplier of services and equipment for UK telecoms providers, said the new contracts demonstrate the UK government's support for alternative providers to Openreach and Virgin Media – creating more market competition and a boost for rural areas.

“With City Fibre awarded one-tenth of the five billion-pound Project Gigabit investment in this latest contract, it will continue to increase competition in the UK broadband market and put pressure on legacy broadband providers to up their investments in rural areas,” he said. “This investment will help as City Fibre continues to invest in new and innovative network technology, such as XGS-PON... By pushing the boundaries of networks, it will ensure the UK can meet the demands of tomorrow’s bandwidth-hungry applications, and boost economic growth.”

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