• Devolved body looking at options for publicly owned North Wales’ network ahead of 2025 contract end point.
  • Move comes after US private equity buyout of project partners.

btw338-tt-fibrespeed

North Wales’ Fibrespeed network could be put in play

Source: Pixabay / Chaitawat Pawapoowadon

The Welsh government is considering offloading the infrastructure assets underpinning regional broadband project Fibrespeed, as part of a “pre-exit review” of the network.

A partner is being sought to conduct a commercial, financial, and technical assessment of Fibrespeed’s underlying infrastructure, which was set up in 2007 to help deliver higher-speed connectivity to business parks and residential users in North Wales.

The government — no doubt conscious of recent years’ busy M&A and investment scene in UK fibre, and the prospect of overbuild — wants to undertake a technical assessment to establish whether the network, operated on an open access basis, is “fit for purpose, both for now and the future”. It also wants to ascertain its financial worth from an “asset and market value perspective”.

Among options the review will consider, according to a recent notice, is to sell the network, retain commercial arrangements in their current form, or shift to a different model.

The study comes with the current Fibrespeed contract due to expire in March 2025.

“ The Welsh government would like a full options appraisal, which will need to include a technical, financial, and commercial assessment of the network, taking into consideration the national and international backhaul market, and, if appropriate, make recommendations to the Welsh government in order to establish the most appropriate future use of the network at the end of the contract. ”

Welsh government.

Reset number two in works

The Fibrespeed programme’s underlying assets include a high-speed backbone stretching east–west across the north of Wales, linking Deeside, Holyhead, and Wrexham. On top of this are various business park networks, hubs and radio towers, as well as “fibre network assets not currently commercialised along this route”, according to the notice.

Originally, the Fibrespeed project was set up as a partnership involving the Welsh government, fibre player Geo Networks, and the European Regional Development Fund. A 2013 reorganisation saw the government retain network ownership and responsibility for monetisation pass to a dedicated, Geo Networks-owned business called Fibrespeed Ltd.

The provider’s contract covers marketing of wholesale broadband services to business parks and dark fibre clients, using the Fibrespeed infrastructure. It names twelve service provider partners on its website and reported £3.75m (€4.42m) in turnover during the 18 months to 31 December 2020. In 2015, it said the network was being used by “more than 350 businesses and more than 1,800 domestic households”.

In 2014, both Fibrespeed and Geo Networks were acquired by US-based InfraCo Zayo Group, which in 2020 was itself taken over through a joint acquisition by private equity players DigitalBridge and EQT Infrastructure.