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CityFibre: UK broadband held back by ageing Openreach infrastructure

Friday, September 11th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Competition is “critical” if the UK's broadband infrastructure is to keep up with other countries, a CityFibre boss has said.

Rob Hamlin, director of business development at the gigabit broadband provider, said broadband in this country is being held back by poor infrastructure.

“What’s holding back broadband speeds and broadband quality is the infrastructure, it’s the lines in the ground,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“There are many great service providers in all the sectors but frequently the only way they can deliver service to their customers is via an Openreach line.

“We believe the UK market needs infrastructure competition, that is where the market has been failing.”

Cityfibre builds and operates fibre optic networks and is aiming to "transform" the UK's telecoms infrastructure, offering an alternative to BT's networks, Mr Hamlin said.

The company, formed in 2011, is creating what it calls ‘Gigabit Cities’ across the UK, which so far include York (pictured), Peterborough, Coventry and Aberdeen.

Earlier this week, CityFibre announced that it had signed a new £5.6m deal with Edinburgh City Council to extend its ultrafast fibre broadband network to a further 294 council-owned sites.

As well as this, CityFibre is working with EE and Three to overhaul their networks using dark fibre, and is also teaming up with Sky and TalkTalk to offer a pure fibre network called Ultra Fibre Optic.

Cable.co.uk recently reported that the Huntington and Groves areas of York will be among the first to get the new ultrafast service, which is completely separate from BT's network.

Mr Hamlin said CityFibre, whose services don't suffer from the weaknesses of an ageing copper network, is already providing networks for hundreds of schools as well as public sector projects like libraries, community centres and even “core government sites”.

'Holding things back'

“We see fibre rollout on a much larger scale – particularly fibre to the home and fibre to the premises – in other counties around the world, and Cityfibre is really trying to bring that to our UK towns and cities,” he said.

“We are certainly proud that over the last 18 months particularly we have accelerated our rollout and continue to look forward to rolling out at scale across the UK.

“We believe the UK market needs infrastructure competition, that is where the market has been failing.

“The infrastructure competition is, we feel, critical. That is what is holding things back and that is what is making a difference in the cities we are operating in."

Mr Hamlin said it was clear that data consumption will continue to grow and the requirement for "ubiquitous fibre" is almost inevitable.

"It’s going to be needed in the UK, and the UK is going to suffer if it’s not available when it’s available in other countries.”

Asked whether government should intervene in the issue or subsidise CityFibre's work, he said all that is needed is support for alternative infrastructure providers to get involved in the market.

“I think the main thing we would like to see is an environment that supports competition and that supports the opportunity for alternative infrastructure investment.

“We don’t feel that the government necessarily needs to subsidise the development of this infrastructure.

“Our main desire would be to ensure that the market conditions are kept conducive to infrastructure competition and to alternatives in the market, and that regulatory frameworks and policy in the UK do not make it too difficult or complex for new entries and alternatives.

“Keeping that competition and that competitive environment at the infrastructure level is really important, otherwise we just end up with more monopoly infrastructure."

Last month, BT Openreach CEO Joe Garner insisted that the UK is in a “leading position” when it comes to its fibre broadband rollout.

Mr Garner said Openreach is building a fibre network at the fastest rate “of any country on the planet” and is “pushing on at a tremendous rate” to get fibre coverage to 95% of the country.

He said BT had made "huge investments in fibre" and had done so at a time when not many companies were investing.

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