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UK Altnet Unveils $800M Fiber Plan

10:10 AM -- Might the U.K. become a fiber-access broadband nation after all? Alternative operator CityFibre thinks so and wants to play its part by investing up to £500 million (US$800 million) in new metro rings and open-access fiber infrastructure around Britain that could connect 50,000 businesses and 1 million of Britain's 25 million homes.

That's easier said than done, though. There are a number of players talking about hooking up British homes and businesses with true high-speed, fiber-based broadband connections but so far there's been little action: For example, much of BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA)'s new broadband rollout is fiber-to-the-curb (FTTC) rather than fiber all the way to the home. (See Euronews: BT Speeds Up FTTX Rollout and BT Ramps FTTx Plans, Turns a Profit.)

The CityFibre team is serious about its plans, though, and isn't just a bunch of fly-by-nights brandishing only a Powerpoint presentation and multiple acronyms. The company acquired a number of U.K. fiber network assets from the i3 Group (H2O Networks, Fibrecity Holdings and Opencity Media) earlier this year and is already running seven metro fiber networks around the U.K. (in Ayr, Bath, Bournemouth, Derby, Newcastle, Sheffield and York) and about 100 private fiber network projects. (See Fibrecity Plans More UK FTTH and H2O Wires Sewers.)

It is also repairing a FTTH rollout in the south coast town of Bournemouth that was left in disarray by Fibrecity. (See CityFibre Relights Bournemouth.)

Now it has appointed Macquarie Capital as its fundraising advisor as it seeks financial backers for its new projects, which will see CityFibre hook up local authority buildings and business premises and provide fiber connections to homes with speeds of between 100 Mbit/s and 1 Gbit/s that can then be used by retail service providers.

Among the CityFibre team is one long-time advocate of municipal fiber networks: Former financial analyst James Enck is CityFibre's head of corporate development. The CEO is Greg Mesch, formerly of Dutch fiber network operator Versatel and Irish operator Esat Telecom. (See Enck Joins Lynch Mob.)

CityFibre isn't the only company with open-access FTTH plans for the U.K., as Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) also sees potential in such a move. (See Fujitsu Unveils UK FTTH Plan.)

Goodness knows the U.K. could do with all the FTTH investment it can get, so CityFibre is to be commended for its plans. Just how much money it can raise for capital-intensive projects that never offer quick returns on investment is another matter.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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