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July 11, 2023
Gigabit broadband could benefit Devon to the tune of £1 billion by the end of the decade, according to fibre builder Wildanet which, not at all coincidentally, has just announced its expansion into the county.
Cornish fibre firm Wildanet commissioned a report from policy institute Curia that claims the rollout of Gigabit-capable broadband will generate £1.125 billion of new business gross value added (GVA) by 2030. The report is a little light on details, but it also lays out the social impact of high-speed broadband, ideas on public sector savings, and reductions in carbon footprint. The full report is available to download on the altnet’s website.
Wildanet is effectively juxtaposing the report – and extensive commentary on how Devon is underperforming on Gigabit broadband compared with the rest of the UK – with the announcement that it is extending its footprint into Devon. It’s important to note though, that while the figures in the Curia report assumes universally available Gigabit broadband by 2030 and extensive availability by 2025, Wildanet is targeting 25,000 homes and businesses in its first phase of deployment.
That’s not to criticise Wildanet, of course – its mission statement is to connect rural communities and difficult to reach areas, and that is to be applauded – but rather to point out that it is not single-handedly looking to cover the whole county. It expects to add more than 50,000 rural ready-for-service premises by the end of 2023, it said, in addition to the 60,000 wireless connections already available across Devon and Cornwall.
Wildanet in May shared plans to move out of its native Cornwall into Devon, but it started work in the county some months earlier, deploying fibre connections in the town of Totnes. It is digging in 15 areas of Devon as it works towards its first phase target, and has opened a new office and logistics centre in Bideford, in the north of the county.
Some extra investment will help. Last week Wildanet revealed that existing investor, alternative asset manager Gresham House, had agreed to plough an additional £50 million into the company to enable to push on with fibre rollout in Devon and Cornwall. Wildanet was founded as long ago as 2017, but its South West network rollout was kick-started in 2020 following an initial £50 million investment from Gresham House. Naturally, it views the investor’s latest commitment as big vote of confidence in what it is doing.
“This latest investment will allow Wildanet to bring forward the timing of its current rollout plans and target new areas across both counties, including some of the most challenging, remote locations bypassed in previous rollouts by major telecoms operators,” said Helen Wylde, CEO of Wildanet.
The altnet is not solely reliant on investor funding though. Earlier this year it picked up two Project Gigabit contracts from the UK government’s BDUK worth a combined £36 million. Those two contracts will see it deploy full fibre gigabit-capable broadband to two areas of Cornwall covering a total of 19,250 premises.
According to Wylde, the funding injection from Gresham House will enable it to accelerate rollout by up to five years, which will help boost efforts at improving digital inclusion in the region. Only only 54% of people in Devon have access to gigabit speed broadband, compared with a national figure of 75%, the Curia report shows. In addition, as many as 78,000 people in Devon have still never used the Internet.
“While this report is specific to Devon, there are clearly implications for the provision of high-speed broadband nationally,” Wylde noted.
Indeed. And finally we have a raft of companies hooking up the UK to fibre one small community and one region at a time.
Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.
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