The cries of “oh no, not another one!” can already be heard today as the Superfast Berkshire project in England joins others in confirming that their roll-out of fibre-based broadband ISP networks – via both Gigaclear and Openreach (BT) – will face a significant delay in the county (affecting both Phase 2 and 3 contracts).
So far we’ve already run reports on the delays being seen in other Gigaclear contracts (e.g. here), although the issue in Berkshire extends to include Openreach (BT) too. Until now the local state aid supported project had expected to push the overall level of “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) coverage in the county to 99.6% of premises by the end of 2019 (currently 97%).
The above target was supported last year by the signing of two new contracts (Phase 3). Firstly, Gigaclear agreed to roll-out their 1Gbps FTTP network to cover an additional 6,100 premises in East Berkshire. Secondly, Openreach said they would deploy a mix of FTTP and FTTC to reach a further 7,400 premises.
Unfortunately the project has now been forced to admit that a “lack of engineering capacity in the broadband industry and the rapid expansion of commitments on the relative newcomer Gigaclear” means that both suppliers are now “unable to meet their original contractual delivery targets in Berkshire“.
State of the Delay
* Gigaclear’s phase 2 delivery, in West Berkshire, scheduled for completion by October 2017 is now forecast for May 2019, 20 months behind schedule, with 1,530 of 16,011 premises still awaiting their fibre broadband connections.
* Gigaclear’s phase 3 delivery, for Berkshire, scheduled for completion by September 2019 is now forecast for December 2019, 3 months behind schedule.
* BT’s phase 3 delivery, for Berkshire, scheduled for completion by December 2018 is now forecast for December 2019, 12 months behind schedule.
Oddly the statement includes an apology from Gigaclear, but not Openreach, although we have just asked the latter for a comment and will report back if they respond.
Mike Surrey, CEO at Gigaclear plc, said:
“Gigaclear apologises for delays encountered with these deliveries, we are confident that under new ownership and with a new management team in place we will work with the Superfast Berkshire team to complete these projects without further operational delays, delivering Ultrafast broadband to all the properties in our contracted areas.”
Dominic Boeck, West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Broadband, said:
“We’re working closely with both suppliers to minimise these delays and to meet the broadband expectations of our communities.
We’ve also experienced quality issues with some of the engineering works already completed by Gigaclear during their phase 2 rollout and we expect that this remedial work will take at least 18 months to complete and will start in November 2018. This will be a separate programme and it should not slow down the rollout of remaining phase 2 broadband connections nor affect those customers whose connections are already live on Gigaclear’s network.
Any extra programme costs associated with this late delivery and other remedial works will be borne by the contractors and will not come from public funds.”
The fact that we’ve now had to report on big delays for several countries, including Berkshire, Northamptonshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Devon and Somerset does not bode well for the Government’s related Broadband Delivery UK programme, which had been expecting that “superfast broadband” coverage could reach at least 98% of the UK by the end of 2020.
At the current rate of deployment 98% still seems to be achievable for the UK but doubts may be cast if the problems spread even further (lower coverage may also have an impact on the cost of the 10Mbps+ USO).
So far most of the problems have stemmed from Gigaclear’s contracts, although Openreach clearly are not immune and being 12 months behind schedule is not a small problem. We should point out that many of these later stage contracts focus on “full fibre” FTTP, which is a lot more expensive, complex and slower to deploy than cheaper hybrid fibre solutions.