ISP TalkTalk Top 4.29m UK Broadband Users – Quite on FTTH Rollout

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The latest quarterly results from TalkTalk to the end of 2018 (Q3 FY19) has seen the ISP add a further +44,000 on-net broadband customers to total 4,287,000 (up from the +24k added in the previous quarter), although sadly there’s not much of an update on their “FibreNationFTTH deployment.

The past quarter has been a mixed one for the budget ISP and included a £4 TV price hike that many customers can confusingly opt-out from (here), as well as the move to relocate their HQ from London to Salford (Manchester) and the launch of a new Call Whisper feature for tackling phone calls to “rip off” 118 numbers (here).

Otherwise TalkTalk today reported that they added +146,000 new “fibre” (FTTC/P) customers during the past quarter (compared with +89,000 in the same quarter last year), although this will be dominated by their Openreach based FTTC (hybrid fibre VDSL2 and G.fast) network. Sadly there are no stats for their new G.fast products or their FTTP/H roll-out, although the latter currently only exists in York.

At this point our regulars may recall that the last quarterly update before Christmas included details of their new FibreNation programme (here), which set out their initial roll-out plans for building a new 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTP) broadband network. But if you don’t..

The FibreNation Recap

The previous announcement appeared to shelve TalkTalk’s originally planned £1.5bn deal with Infracapital (due to a disagreement over how to value their network) and instead proposed a much more limited deployment, at least until they could find an alternative investment partner to support their “Fibre for Everyone” strategy.

As part of that they setup FibreNation as a wholly owned full fibre wholesale provider, which would oversee construction of the new “full fibre” network and supply services to ISPs (Sky Broadband is already on-board). The project initially expected to deploy FTTH for up to 60,000 homes (stated as 50K – 60K) in three towns and cities: Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon (taking place within the “next 12-18 months“).

The c.60K premises passed figure excludes their existing “Ultra Fibre Optic” deployment in York with Cityfibre, which once completed should reach 54,000 premises (i.e. making for an overall total of c.100,000 premises passed).

Suffice to say that we expected today’s update to give us a bit more information about the initial roll-out work, such as whether or not they’ve even started the construction phase. Unfortunately there’s no clear word on this and that makes us question whether they can deliver c.60K within the next year.

Instead we’re told that the initial “pre-FibreNation” costs will be around £5m-£10m and that this remains “dependent” on the Joint Ventureprocess” (at present they don’t have a solid partner). Interestingly the only one of the roll-out locations that gets name dropped is Harrogate, so we’re assuming they will be first in line for whatever happens.

Tristia Harrison, CEO of TalkTalk, said:

“We continue to see strong trading momentum in the business, with customer growth ahead of expectations. Q3 was the eighth consecutive quarter of rising customer numbers and we saw record demand for Fibre.

The underlying business is on track. The change to earnings guidance is due to IFRS 15 timing adjustments and investment in growth. Year on year, we have increased revenue by growing the base and stabilising ARPU, which combined with lower costs is driving improved earnings.

Our significant customer momentum, combined with the benefits of our reorganisation and HQ move, gives us confidence in strong earnings growth for FY20.”

Aside from the continuing uncertainty around their FibreNation plan, TalkTalk are otherwise seeing good customer growth and look set to benefit from future cost savings (e.g. the HQ move). On the financial front they reported total headline revenue (ex-carrier & off-net) of £386m (vs Q3 FY18: £375m) and churn of 1.16% (Q3 FY18: 1.25%), although average revenue per user was down to £24.70 per month (Q3 FY18: £25.18).

Finally, it’s also noted that some 2.3 million of their customers have now taken one of their better value Fixed Low Price Plans.

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