Alternative broadband network CityFibre has hinted it might expand its full-fibre rollout, just days after Openreach upped its own FTTP target.
With a budget of £4 billion, CityFibre is currently aiming to bring its full-fibre network to 8 million premises across 285 towns, cities and villages by 2025. But if it secures extra funding, that figure could rise to 10 million by the same date.
CityFibre is already the largest of the UK’s alternative broadband networks, firms with smaller footprints vying with Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media. It delivers full fibre to 650,000 homes and businesses in 66 locations, with services sold to customers through wholesale partners including TalkTalk and Vodafone.
It continued linking residences and businesses during the pandemic and is on track to reach 1 million connections by the end of the year. Its current goal would give it 30% coverage by 2025.
But an announcement from the BT Group last week has turned up the heat on the full-fibre race. BT’s Openreach is now targeting 25 million connections by December 2026, 5 million more than it previously had in its sights.
Now CityFibre has hinted that it too will dial up its ambitions. Chief executive Greg Mesch has said he’s having conversations with 20 pension and infrastructure funds from around the world. Those talks could lead to the sale of a 30% stake in the company for £1 billion.
The additional funds would help CityFibre realise its current deployment goals and also compete for rural deployment targets under the government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit programme. Project Gigabit will fund full-fibre connections to the hardest to reach 20% of UK premises.
If CityFibre could secure contracts under Project Gigabit, it could potentially increase its rollout target to 10 million premises.
Mesch said: “We're going faster than we ever have. The pandemic was a plus for us. We thought at first it could be a very, very bad thing. But it turned into an accelerator.
“We were able to build quicker because the pandemic had everybody off the roads—or at least out of the way. And unlike BT and unlike Virgin, we didn't stop. We remobilised, we recommitted, we went stronger.”
Mesch said CityFibre isn’t responding to BT’s redoubled goal and that his company’s increased target was already in the works. “We think we can get our build rate equal to or greater than BT's build rate within the next 24 months,” he added.
As of April, Openreach was connecting 43,000 new premises to full fibre every week. BT has said it’s already ramping up work to take this to 77,000 per week, for a maximum build rate of 4 million connections per year.
With telecoms providers laying down the gauntlet on full fibre, other companies are eager to get involved. Mobile operator Vodafone, which was an early partner to CityFibre, has suggested it could partner with Openreach as it drives toward 25 million connections by 2026.
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