Vodafone sets course for UK's largest full-fiber player

Vodafone has announced an extension of its wholesale partnership with UK altnet CityFibre.

The upshot, after factoring in a separate wholesale deal with Openreach – BT's infrastructure arm – is that Vodafone reckons it's on course to become the UK's largest full-fiber retail player. The operator aims to pass 8 million homes by next spring.

Paolo Pescatore, a tech, media and telco analyst at PP Foresight, senses Vodafone is now "a serious player" in the full-fiber retail market.

On the back of wholesale deals struck with CityFibre and Openreach, Vodafone aims to pass 8 million UK homes with full-fiber by next spring.
  (Source: Vodafone UK)
On the back of wholesale deals struck with CityFibre and Openreach, Vodafone aims to pass 8 million UK homes with full-fiber by next spring.
(Source: Vodafone UK)

"If the [CityFibre] partnership delivers on the rollout promise then it could be seen that Vodafone is setting the pace when it comes to availability of full fibre in more places," he told Light Reading.

"This, in turn, should give Vodafone an advantage of awareness and potentially subscriber adoption."

Under the terms of the arrangement with CityFibre, Vodafone becomes the UK altnet's anchor customer. The operator has apparently made long-term, volume commitments across CityFibre's entire rollout, which, coincidentally, happens to also be eight million homes (but by 2025) as part of its £4bn ($5.4 billion) investment program.

Light Reading was unable to determine, at the time of going to press, how much of Vodafone's 8 million passed homes spring target was split between CityFibre and Openreach.

The new CityFibre deal, said Vodafone, builds on a "andmark strategic partnership" it agreed with the UK altnet in November 2017. At the time, Vodafone committed to wholesale broadband services across a one-million home CityFibre footprint in 12 cities.

In September CityFibre raised more funds from the sale of a £825 million (S$1.14 billion) stake to Interogo Holdings, which bankrolls furniture retailer Ikea, and a £300 million ($415 million) extension to its existing bank loan agreements.

Impact on Virgin Media O2

Pescatore thinks the extended Vodafone partnership with CityFibre – along with the recent launch of Openreach's Equinox offer – adds more pressure on Virgin Media O2, which has still to announce a significant CSP win for its wholesale business.

"It raises some doubts about who will sign up with Virgin Media O2," remarks Pescatore.

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Virgin Media O2 complained to regulator Ofcom that Openreach is threatening the viability of rival altnets through what it sees as overly generous discounts to broadband retailers seeking access to its wholesale network, and that the "Equinox" pricing framework sets a "dangerous precedent" that will deter investment in Openreach's rivals.

Virgin Media O2 recently announced plans to upgrade its entire cable network to full-fiber technology by 2028 at an estimated cost of about £100 (US$140) per home passed.

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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