A new full-fibre network company set up by former Vodafone directors has received £75m in funds from investors including the UK government-backed National Digital Infrastructure Fund. Called toob, the business plans to become a regional broadband player reaching 100,000 premises by the end of 2021 and with a longer-term ambition to cover 1m homes. It is the latest in a string of new “alt-nets” looking to take advantage of the slow pace of fibre-to-the-premises network build in the UK, which is still largely reliant on copper lines.
Some of the larger alternative networks, including Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and CityFibre, have been taken over or backed by huge infrastructure funds that see an opportunity to build competitors to BT and Virgin Media while smaller participants have started to spring up targeting specific niches. The investment in toob by Amber Infrastructure, which manages the NDIF, is its largest yet. It backed Community Fibre, an urban broadband company targeting social housing developments, with £25m last year.The new company was founded by Nick Parbutt and Mike Banwell who were senior directors at Vodafone’s UK arm. Charles McGregor, who was chairman of rural fibre company Gigaclear for five years, joined the company in the same role last week. Mr McGregor was also the founder of Fibrenet which was sold to Global Crossing in 2006, when it was run by John Legere, for £50m.
Mr Parbutt led the launch of Vodafone’s UK broadband service on top of BT’s network and signed the deal with CityFibre to back the smaller network’s expansion in towns such as Milton Keynes.
He said toob would use BT’s ducts and poles to rapidly build a network and aims to become a regional fibre player in the mould of UFO in York, which was a joint venture between TalkTalk, CityFibre and Sky and has now expanded into surrounding areas. Toob is based in Portsmouth but Mr Parbutt declined to say where it would initially launch its network. He expects to have customers by the end of the year and is in talks with construction companies to start the work. Openreach, BT’s networking arm, has committed to build full fibre to 3m homes by the end of 2020 while CityFibre, backed by Vodafone, has a longer-term target of 5m. Virgin Media is also upgrading much of its network to full fibre as part of the £3bn Project Lightning plan.