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CityFibre's £20m for full fibre in 60,000 homes and firms

Andy Starnes, left, and Charles Kitchin of CityFibre at the Bradfield Centre. Picture: Keith Heppell
Andy Starnes, left, and Charles Kitchin of CityFibre at the Bradfield Centre. Picture: Keith Heppell

A strategic partnership between CityFibre and Vodafone will result in full fibre connectivity for 60,000 homes and business in the area by 2021.

CityFibre, a London-based ‘Gigabit City’ provider owned by a consortium which includes Goldman Sachs, began its mission in 2011 and is now operating in 52 UK towns and cities.

The £20million investment pot to upgrade the city’s infrastructure will see an end to copper connectivity. CityFibre’s estimated investment across the whole country is £2.5billion to connect five million households. The money already raised and available now is £1.12billion.

CityFibre commercial director Rob Hamlin said: “CityFibre has committed to invest at least £20million in the infrastructure project which will extend its fibre network to around 60,000 homes and businesses in the city, bringing full fibre to many city residents for the very first time.”

The project could hardly have come at a more critical time: the UK has slipped to 35th in the worldwide broadband speed table, below Portugal, Bulgaria and Iceland – and a couple of places behind Germany. The top five slots belong to Singapore, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Romania.

“In the UK we’re light years behind,” said Charles Kitchin, CityFibre’s city development manager, prior to the opening of the firm’s office in Histon later this month. “Other countries like the US have had full fibre for 10 or 15 years and that really shows the difference it makes.”

CityFibre roadworks are far less disruptive than the traditional road dig
CityFibre roadworks are far less disruptive than the traditional road dig

The strategic reason for this, says head of city development Andy Starnes, is that dominant telephony companies have stymied progress.

“Full fibre is only new in the UK because the incumbents have held it back,” says Andy. “Look at the OECD tables: the UK is 28th or 29th in terms of properties connected, yet we’re one of the biggest internet shopping nations in the world. BT is a big international player. Germany is the same – they have a big incumbent player holding back progress.”

“We have stated our objective of connecting five million homes by 2025,” adds Andy.

Charles’ extensive experience includes a role as director of public engagement and communication at the office of the police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire.

He said: “I’ve either studied, lived, or worked in the city for the last 40 years and I’m thrilled to be part of the driving force transforming Cambridge’s digital infrastructure. Currently only six per cent of the UK has full fibre broadband, so it’s really exciting that almost everyone in Cambridge will be able to have access to and benefit from full fibre over the coming years.”

CityFibre’s full-fibre technology uses a small amount of power at the network hub, then connects to a Toby Box on the edge of the premises (located in a small cabinet underneath the pavement or road surface). This street cabinet is then connected to the home via a wall-mounted box, like a slimline wifi box.

CityFibre construction involves minimal disruption
CityFibre construction involves minimal disruption

“The usual service from telephony companies is fibre to the street cabinet and then copper to the business or home,” says Andy. “This has created a legacy of bottlenecks. The UK has been appallingly served.”

The initial rollout will take place in Arbury, King’s Hedges and Chesterton.

Cllr Ian Bates, chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s economy and environment committee, which leads the Connecting Cambridgeshire digital connectivity programme, said: “We welcome this major investment by CityFibre bringing full fibre to Cambridge. This exciting development complements our aim to expand full fibre networks across the county. We’re keen to work with all telecoms providors to maximise investment in the digital infrastructure, which will underpin the local economy, support public services and prepare for the next generation of mobile services.

“Our Enabling Digital Delivery team – or EDD for short – is one of the first local ‘barrier busting’ teams in the country and I am delighted to see the team is working with CityFibre and our streetworks teams to resolve problems as they arise to speed up delivery of full fibre networks in Cambridge.”

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