Blink for a moment and you might miss news of yet another UK fiber broadband startup.
That's how it feels in Brexitland right now as the latest in a growing crop of alternative British FTTH network operators, toob, announces funding and rollout plans, making it the latest company to go head-to-head in the UK FTTH infrastructure market with Openreach, the semi-autonomous fixed line access arm of UK incumbent BT.
The Portsmouth, UK-based fiber broadband startup announced Monday it has raised £75 million (US$99 million) from Amber Infrastructure Group's National Digital Infrastructure Fund, which comprises capital from private investors and a "commitment" from the UK Government's Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF).
The operator plans to use the funds to build its own fiber broadband network in the UK -- the company will not be building any of its network through fiber acquisitions -- and pass 100,000 premises by the end of 2021.
That looks like an ambitious target: The company has just announced the funding and has not yet identified the location(s) of its planned build and there are only 32 months until its self-imposed rollout deadline. "We haven't confirmed where we will be rolling out yet but will do so later in the year," a toob spokesman noted in an emailed response to questions.
But it seems the 100,000 target will be attempted in a single location, rather than across multiple towns and cities: The company's website notes that "toob has a bold ambition for our network to pass more than 1 million homes, business and community organisations over the next ten years. toob has secured sufficient funds to build the network in a first city passing more than 100k premises."
But if toob, which is founded and led by CEO Nick Parbutt and CFO Mike Banwell (CFO), both former directors at Vodafone UK, is planning on digging up the streets in a prime UK conurbation not already targeted by another alternative UK FTTH operator it will need to hurry because the prime cities are being targeted by the likes of Cityfibre -- and being the second challenger in any market is not a recipe for success, especially in the FTTH game.
toob CEO Nick Parbutt
Where it differs with Cityfibre is that toob plans to build the network and then offer its services over that infrastructure, with a promise to keep prices low by making everything as simple as possible: Cityfibre, on the other hand, is a direct rival to Openreach, in that it is building out its fiber access network and then offering capacity to retail service providers on a wholesale basis. That approach, and its timing, has worked out well for Cityfibre, as having attracted big name customers such as Vodafone and TalkTalk, it was acquired in early 2018 by a Goldman Sachs-led consortium for £538 million and has since laid out bullish fiber network investment plans.
toob has more in common with the likes of Hyperoptic, which has been building its FTTH business across the UK for a number of years in focused pockets or urban deployments; Community Fibre, which is laying new fiber in central London; and Lightning Fibre, a new entrant that is aiming to deliver Gigabit broadband to a local area around the England coastal town of Eastbourne.
The company plans to take advantage of "Openreach's improved ducts and pole access (PIA) product, which becomes fully available at the beginning of April this year," and deploy "the latest" FTTH technology. We look forward to seeing how the PIA relationship works out and what tech gets deployed at the ends of toob's fibers.
toob's backers are hoping the FTTH startup's fortunes will be enhanced by the appointment of a new chairman in the form of Charles McGregor, who, according to toob, "brings extensive experience of fibre and successfully growing businesses, having recently served as the Chairman of Gigaclear [another alternative UK FTTH operator] for five years."
The announcement of toob's funding comes only days after Openreach launched a consultation, seeking input from its wholesale customers, about how to make the shift towards a fiber-only broadband infrastructure.
The UK, though, is a long way off being fiber-only and is way behind some of its European peers: Statistics from research firm Idate suggest that FTTH penetration in the UK is only at 1.3% of households, compared to 44% in Spain.
Facebook says it has developed a 'technology solution' that enables fiber to be deployed along electrical grid infrastructure in a very cost-effective way and has licensed that solution for free to startup NetEquity Networks.
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