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Vodafone expands fibre push with CityFibre deal

Vodafone has brokered a deal that will see it become the anchor tenant across CityFibre’s nationwide full fibre network, extending the existing wholesale partnership between the pair.

Cue much jubilation and back-slapping, as the UK telco declares itself (soon-to-be) “Britain’s largest full fibre broadband provider,” while its host talks up the network investments it will be able to make as a result of the deal.

But the question is, for how long will Vodafone be able to claim to have the broadest fibre footprint in the country? There is no exclusivity in this deal, and as the UK fibre customer landgrab continues, surely others will sign up to CityFibre as it grows its infrastructure. As it reminded us last week, CityFibre has 30 retail ISPs using various parts of its network, including big names like TalkTalk and Zen. As its network grows, its popularity is unlikely to wane.

As it stands, CityFibre’s wholesale fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network passes 1 million homes, but a £4 billion investment programme – it keeps reminding us of the figure – should see it reach 8 million by 2025. The new agreement will make that entire footprint available to Vodafone. It builds upon an existing deal between them, Vodafone having signed up to use CityFibre’s network in a dozen UK cities four years ago.

Naturally, we don’t know the financial details of their arrangement, but one thing is clear: Vodafone having pledged to long-term usage of the infrastructure with certain volume commitments will help to pay for it.

“Anchored by the increased commitment from Vodafone, CityFibre is making a substantial investment into a new National Access network, connecting its rapidly growing footprint of local Full Fibre networks. The new network will make it far easier, faster and more cost effective for Vodafone and other wholesale partners to bring services to market across its nationwide footprint,” CityFibre says.

Given that CityFibre has not changed its coverage targets, it’s debatable how new this national access network plan really is. But locking in an anchor tenant, with other tenants likely to follow, makes the whole thing much more achievable.

“Through our strategic partnership, Vodafone has made a powerful decision to back CityFibre and help establish wholesale infrastructure competition for the UK,” said CityFibre chief executive Greg Mesch.

Of course, Vodafone needs that infrastructure competition too, being a buyer of network capacity rather than a builder. Its self-styled status as Britain’s biggest full fibre provider is built on wholesale deals with Openreach and CityFibre. It describes this as “investing in partnerships” with those companies, which is an interesting way of putting it. Yes, having Vodafone – or whoever – as a customer provides the wholesaler with some cash to invest in its own infrastructure, but…well, if I buy a loaf from Tesco, am I investing in Hovis? Hardly.

However, well-chosen wording aside, it doesn’t matter a jot to the end user whether Vodafone has its own infrastructure or not. It’s all about coverage. The more people can access a fibre service from Vodafone, the more it establishes itself as a credible high-speed fixed broadband provider.

“Consumers need competition in the broadband space, and we’re committed to delivering that. Our partnership approach allows us to bring full fibre to more homes than any other provider, ensuring families have more choice and more competitive pricing than ever before,” said Max Taylor, Consumer Director at Vodafone UK.

The telco has introduced a new fibre promo to mark the CityFibre deal, offering a half-price 900 Mbps service to customers covered by the wholesaler’s footprint. That’s a smart move; while coverage counts, customers almost always vote with their wallets.

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