More cash and customers as UK fibre boom continues

New developments in the UK fibre market indicate that the sector remains buoyant, not that there was really any doubt on the matter.

Community Fibre has shared its latest rollout stats, but more interestingly, highlighted a new £100 million loan facility, while CityFibre unveiled a new customer arrangement that adds credence to its model and to its position as one of the country’s biggest altnets.

The former is all about London, but we’re talking a much broader footprint in the case of the latter.

Community Fibre came to the industry’s notice just under two years ago, with an ambitious plan to deliver full fibre broadband to 1 million households in London by 2023 and an injection of cash to help it on its way: investors Warburg Pincus and DTCP took a majority stake in the company for £400 million. The telco has since upped its target to 2.2 million homes and businesses by the end of 2024 and it is well on its way to achieving that. It has rolled out fibre to the first half million homes, while 116,000 businesses can connect to its network.

Whether they actually are or not is another matter. Community Fibre hasn’t disclosed customer numbers, from which we can surmise that there are not masses.

But that is clearly no problem for those bankrolling the company. Community Fibre notes that in support of its expansion plans it has secured an additional £100 million facility from a syndicate of new and existing banks, adding that the facility was “significantly oversubscribed.” Fibre still looks like a good bet to investors and financial backers, even at a fairly modest scale.

“As an independent provider competing against larger incumbents, we know our goals are ambitious. However, we have been working hard to ensure that all of London has access to a high quality, high speed, affordable broadband network,” said Community Fibre chief executive Graeme Oxby, who has brought his wealth of UK telecoms experience to company over the past few years. “We believe that London should have the best possible infrastructure to support its future growth ambitions,” Oxby said.

London has perhaps become a slightly harder sell in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly for business customers, as more people work from home and often further from city centres. However, there seems little doubt that the capital’s residents will still need full fibre broadband, which leaves Community Fibre with the job of persuading them to connect to its infrastructure, rather those of its rivals.

Further afield, wholesale fibre builder CityFibre remains busy pushing its credentials as a serious alternative to the big guns, with a network that covers 1.5 million homes – most of which are actually service-ready – in many locations across the UK. It prefers to talk about its targeted coverage though: CityFibre is working on a £4 billion rollout project with the aim of reaching 8 million homes and 800,000 businesses by 2025, which is roughly a third of the UK.

CityFibre needs retail customers though and it already has a handful of big names on board in Vodafone, TalkTalk and Zen Internet. It has now added a new customer, or to be more accurate, inked an expansion deal with an existing partner.

Giganet first hooked up with CityFibre in 2020 albeit on a limited basis, agreeing to use its network in 27 locations. It has now pledged to make its full fibre service available across CityFibre’s entire footprint.

“Following a fantastic customer uptake from our initial CityFibre locations, the UK has made no secret of how much they appreciate reliable connectivity and excellent customer service from an ISP,” said Jarlath Finnegan, CEO of Giganet. He added that his company has frozen prices until at least 2023, which customers probably appreciate too, although that is only just over six months away.

Price has always been a major consideration for fibre providers, be they challengers or incumbent, and with a difficult economic climate in the UK, pricing pressure is unlikely to lessen in the near future.

Indeed, Jurassic Fibre, a network builder in the South West of England, this week used the rising cost of living in the UK, including rocketing energy prices, as a jumping off point to pitch a half-price fibre broadband offer, available until the end of June.

“We hope that local people will take advantage of our offer to help keep their household utility bills down,” said Sarah Howells, Chief Customer Officer at Jurassic Fibre.

It’s a laudable idea that will benefit many people in the region…as well as getting bums on seats for Jurassic Fibre.


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