About UK Fibre Connectivity Forum

About Us

The UK Fibre Connectivity Forum (UKFCF) was established further to a connectivity-themed reception which took place at the Houses of Parliament in March 2017. This annual reception had originally been organised by Askar Sheibani on behalf of a fibre optic-based organisation within his group of companies (Sorrento Networks) but it was quickly realised here that there was an overwhelming demand from the industry delegates in attendance to create a separate inclusive grassroots campaign group when it was first proposed at this event.

The inaugural meeting of the Forum was held in September 2017 and proved to be a great success, followed by a further well-attended meeting in November and the dedicated March 2018 Parliamentary debating reception.

The Forum is non-funded, non-profit and free to join and attend, we instead ask that members contribute their resources and expertise where applicable in moving the campaign forward, which we have thus far received fantastic support with.

UKFCF is chaired by founder Askar Sheibani, CEO of the Comtek Group.

UKFCF & Property Sector, Working to Deliver Full Fibre

There is a seismic shift in the connectivity market. Now that the switch to full fibre from the ageing copper network is proposed for 2027, the race is on to ensure that all corners of the UK have gigabit capable broadband services available. With a number of government drivers and initiatives to support this including funding, as well as legislative change around easier access to properties, and the introduction of a ‘new build ombudsman’ which will cover broadband speeds; there has never been a better opportunity to work together to build faster and more efficiently.

Askar Sheibani, Chair of UKFCF and CEO of the Comtek Group said: “The mission of the UK Fibre Connectivity Forum is to make it easier for our industry to deliver full fibre by collaborating and sharing best practice. This move is simply an extension of this ethos across sectors, as we can see how important it is to drive efficiencies across the board if we are to meet the government’s goals.”

Daren Baythorpe, UKFCF board member and CEO of network operator ITS said: “We really believe that it’s important that we work together with the property sector, sharing our collective expertise. Connectivity is the fourth utility, and whatever the purpose of a building, whoever occupies it will expect it in the same way they demand water, electricity or gas. It benefits everyone – developers, landlords, tenants, owner occupiers, the network operators building the infrastructure, as well as service providers. It will drive down the cost of deployment, ensure connectivity is delivered where it is needed, and at pace.”

Rob Chambers, UKCFC board member and MD of Total Telecom said: “We run the biggest annual connectivity conference in the UK, Connected Britain, that brings together organisations from across the industry and public sector. It is our hope that we can reach out to the property sector so we can all be in the same room as it were, so we can move infrastructure deployment to the next level.”


Board Members

Askar Sheibani

Askar Sheibani

Founder & Chair – UKFCF, CEO – Comtek Group

An adventurous entrepreneur since the age of 8, Askar Sheibani built an international technology business starting with only £50 capital. The Comtek Group now has facilities in Deeside (HQ), Reading, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Belfast and an R&D / manufacturing operation in Silicon Valley, California through the acquisition of Sorrento Networks. Sorrento Networks has moved most of its R&D and manufacturing to Belfast, making it the only British owned manufacturer of WDM products in the United Kingdom.

Askar has always focused part of his time working closely with business communities, local authorities and the Welsh & Central Government. A renowned campaigner with a strong social conscience, he vigorously fought for the Welsh Government to designate Deeside (Flintshire) as an Enterprise Zone. He has more recently launched a campaign for the establishment of full-fibre digital connectivity infrastructure in North Wales. He was appointed by the Welsh Government’s Economy Minister in 2013 to promote entrepreneurship in Wales. Since his appointment, Askar has created a community-based Business Entrepreneurship Network (BEN) - a network of successful local entrepreneurs and other stakeholders. He has been presented with a prestigious “Local Hero” Growing Business Award, hosted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Real Business, for his work in promoting enterprise and entrepreneurship in North Wales.

Askar holds the following appointments:

  1. Chair and Founder of the UK Fibre Connectivity Forum.
  2. Chair and Founder of the Deeside Business Forum (DBF).
  3. Chair and Founder of the Business Entrepreneurship Network (BEN)
  4. Fellow and Board Member at Wrexham Glyndwr University
  5. National Council Member of the CBI SME Council
  6. Vice President of the Journalists’ Charity
  7. Board Member of North Wales Science (Techniquest Glyndwr)
John Francis Nolan

John Francis Nolan

Director – First Mile Networks

John has been active in the telecoms industry for far too many years to remember and has worked across the world with several of the prominent “Bitcos” in both consultancy and interim programme management assignments.  He is currently a Director at First Mile Networks (FMN) (www.firstmilenetworks.co.uk).

In partnership with Dr. Chris Lilly, FMN was created as a vehicle to bid for the SEEDA South Coast Superhighway Project but over time, FMN now focus on advisory services/programme management.  Our claim to fame, perhaps, is that we assisted Quintain Estates in the creation of a business and implementation plan for their Wembley Wired and Wireless project.  In fact, we can lay a claim that this activity led to the first FTTH project in the UK (Velocity1).

FMN are also proud of our work with Innovate UK in developing our “Lightpaths on Demand” thinking.  Following this research activity, we subsequently explored the development of our FMN “Fractional Wavelength Switching” concept, but sadly could not convince the investment community to fund the development of a prototype (the telecoms community were fully engaged).

John has written and published for The Institute of Telecommunications Professionals which includes a review of Isenberg’s Stupid Network thinking (see https://bit.ly/36SkoMp) and also examines the work of John Day on the future of TCP/IP (see https://bit.ly/2WVfcWj).  In our Lightpaths on Demand Study, we introduce the concepts of Wavelength Switching and the Neutral Access Network (see https://bit.ly/2V0XakI).  John’s interests include telecoms history and is constantly questioning as to why we send so many bits over networks – there must be an easier way?

Peter Curnow-Ford

Peter Curnow-Ford

Managing Partner – Viatec Associates

Peter is Founder and Managing Partner at Viatec Associates and its global business.

With 30+ years’ experience in global telecoms and IT, Peter founded Viatec Associates in 2002 to assist organisations with decision making in the cellular, satellite & wireless infrastructure and device space on investment, key operational and technology trends and thought leadership on the wireless landscape, 4G & 5G, spectrum use and acquisition, tower (cell site) development and funding, public safety, handsets, transport connectivity and cellular backhaul including small-cell strategies and mmWave. We have supported many investment banks, private equity and hedge funds on infrastructure investment.

5G figures large in what we do - commercial strategy, value proposition, investment, spectrum acquisition, Deep Fibre and infrastructure. Deep interest in small-cell, spectrum valuation and auctions, Tower & DAS investment.

Currently deeply engaged with UK Govt DCMS and their 5G testbed & trials competitions and with several Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) assisting them and their local authorities on 5G funding and the rollout of 5G private networks, fibre spines and working with DCMS on the LFFN program.

Member of the techUK Communication Infrastructure Council and Board Advisor to the UK Spectrum Policy Forum (where he was Chair of Spectrum Access and Use for five years). Regular conference speaker and has chaired several panel sessions at TMT Finance M&A, 5G World, Small Cell World Summit and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation.

He has held Non-Exec roles in Plasma Antennas, Eisar, Bluenowhere, Safetipay, etc and is currently Board Advisor to Dahl Mobile Technology AB, ProtectMe, NextPath and Senior 5G Advisor to 5G-Courses.com.

Rob Chambers

Rob Chambers

Managing Director – Total Telecom

Rob Chambers is the Managing Director of Total Telecom, the leading professional community for the global communications industry and has been instrumental in the launch of many of the sector’s best known events, including the World Communication Awards.

In 2015, Rob launched Connected Britain which has doubled in size every year and is now the standout meeting place for those interested in delivering an environment for the rapid growth of the UK’s digital economy.

Rob has worked in the media industry for over 25 years and in various parts of the technology sector for almost 20 years. He sits on the Independent Publishers Network Committee for the Professional Publishers Association.

Richard Watts

Richard Watts

Business Development Director – VXFiber

Richard is the Business Development Director of Swedish owned fibre investor operator VXFIBER where he has a specific ambition: to break the traditions of the telecoms sector! VXFIBER are the first of their kind in the UK with its fully automated Open Access platform providing an active layer wholesale gigabit service for multiple service providers. VXFIBER launched into the UK last year with networks in central London and now Stoke-on-Trent. As a global business with already 125,000 active users the targets for Europe and the UK in particular are ambitious, expecting investments in many networks all across the UK.

Before VXFIBER, Richard had experience in many industry sectors first enjoying a 20 year career in the Central London commercial real estate scene. From here, Richard moved into IT and marketing to build up and sell a web accounting and ERP business then onto management consulting helping businesses grow and enter new markets.

“VXFIBER is my most exciting role at a time where the age of copper based broadband is over and the Full Fibre movement for the UK has really started to gather pace. The next few years will be fascinating as we see new players both in the ownership of fibre as a revenue generating investment but also at the retailer end where application providers and ISPs will offer innovative services to a demanding customer needing to get ahead in this digital world.”

Graham Leach

Graham Leach

Independent Consultant

Following a successful military career in the Royal Corps of Signals, Graham has 20 years’ experience of working in the telecommunications and technology sectors. During his time in the military, he attended the Army Staff College, served as a staff officer in procurement finance for a total of four years, commanded the multi-national Signal Regiment responsible for the communications infrastructure in Bosnia and later was CIO of the British Force in Bosnia.

On leaving the military, Graham joined Global Crossing as the Service Delivery Director where he had responsibility for integrating and expanding the Racal Telecom, British Rail Telecom and Global Crossing UK networks. He worked for Serco as the Project Director for the roadside technology infrastructure to support the National Traffic Control Centre before becoming Managing Director of Peak Traffic, a traffic technology company which was an Alliance Partner in the National Roads Telecommunications Services programme for the then Highways Agency. He took the company through a successful trade sale.

Following this, Graham worked for Geo Networks for four years, initially running the FibreSpeed project to build and commercialise the next-generation network in North Wales, and then as Chief Operating Officer of the company prior to its acquisition by Zayo. For the past four years, he has worked as an independent consultant, during which time he undertook a variety of assignments including project work for Vodafone and managing projects to upgrade networks from 3G to 4G.

He also worked with a new entrant in the fibre market on project delivery and assisted in developing a business plan to enable them to get funding from the Digital Infrastructure Fund. He has a wealth of experience in network and project delivery, and in government procurement procedures.

Mike Crouch

Mike Crouch

Director – FibreSpeed

Mike Crouch has been involved in the telecoms industry for over 40 years in a number of senior positions for various multi-national and national telecoms companies and ISPs.

He is an experienced Senior Manager with a proven track record in bid management, programme management, Director of Project Management, implementation, Account Manager, professional services and customer service for companies such as FibreSpeed, GTT, Global Crossing, Virtual 1, Telstra, Level 3 and BT. Mike also has experience in national and global environment within strategy, product launch, bid management and account management, including managing stakeholders, vendors and working in a matrix and direct line management environment across the UK, Europe, Asia Pacific and the USA.

In addition to this, Mike was a local councillor over a number of years, serving and chairing various committees overseeing key elements of council spending which was complimented by his professional experience supplying products and services to the UK central government departments for over 30 years.

Dr John Lincoln

Dr John Lincoln

Chief Executive - UK Photonics Leadership Group

Dr John Lincoln is Chief Executive of the UK Photonics Leadership Group, European Strategic Relationship Advisor for SPIE, industrial liaison for the Future Photonics Hub Southampton and Sheffield Universities and member of multiple advisory boards. Through business development consultancy, Harlin Ltd, John supports SMEs, Universities, VCs and government agencies to identify growth opportunities and the impact of photonics.

Website: https://harlinltd.co.uk/

Daren Baythorpe

Daren Baythorpe

CEO - ITS Technology Group

Daren Baythorpe is CEO of ITS Technology Group. Appointed in 2018, he is leading ITS to be one of the UK’s leading wholesale network providers, designing, building, and operating gigabit capable full fibre networks across the UK its 'Faster Britain' programme.

Daren has a strong heritage in the full fibre market, having previously held the role of managing director of Openreach’s Business and Corporate division at a time when alt-net entrants were coming into the sector.

A member of the UK Fibre Connectivity Forum (UKFCF), he is passionate about supporting the rapid growth of the UK’s digital economy.

Robin Taylor

Robin Taylor

Digital Connectivity Consultant – Zetta Connect

Stephen Pegrum

Stephen Pegrum

Account Director – Sorrento Networks

Itret Latif

Itret Latif

Interim CEO - Federation of Communication Services

Tracey Sheehan

Tracey Sheehan

Head of Telecoms – Convergent Consulting