Project Stratum’s N.Ireland Full Fibre Build on Target for 81,000 Premises

Infracapital-backed UK ISP Fibrus this week revealed that the £197m Project Stratum scheme in Northern Ireland, which is working spread a gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network into rural areas, is currently “on target” to cover 81,000 premises by June 2025, “on time and within budget.”

In Northern Ireland, the current coverage for gigabit-capable broadband networks stands at an already impressive level of 95.3% (latest data from Thinkbroadband), thanks to both commercial projects (e.g. Openreach, Fibrus, Virgin Media [VMO2] and Netomnia) and the £197m state aid supported Project Stratum scheme (£248m if we include Fibrus’ private funding).

NOTE: Fibrus has attracted over £750m of committed capital, including £235m from investors, £220m from a banking consortium and the rest as public subsidy (e.g. £197m for Project Stratum and the £108m Project Gigabit contract for 60,000 premises in Cumbria – Hyperfast GB).

The previous target was actually stated to be 85,000 premises by March 2025, although such contracts often need to adapt as they progress due to unexpected changes, such as any obstacles to build or a higher level of commercial coverage than originally forecast. This is likely to be why Fibrus are now stating a figure of 81k (81-82k may be a better range to use).

According to Fibrus, the operator has now completed coverage for 74,000 of the contracted premises and laid 13,259km of cable. Properties in Counties Down and Tyrone currently have the highest number of connected premises, almost 28,000 and 24,000 respectively, with a focus on the last remaining area to connect, Templepatrick.

Dominic Kearns, co-founder and CEO of Fibrus, said:

“This project has been a huge success for both ourselves and the Department in terms of the impact this is having on the rural homes and businesses that we are serving with new full fibre infrastructure.

Rural communities are at the heart of our business and we’ve made a significant contribution to all areas we’ve brought our full fibre infrastructure to, through job creation, community donations, sponsorships and volunteer time.

We were awarded this contract just two years after launching Fibrus. At the time we were best placed and most drivento deliver this project as quickly as possible for all those people in need of a reliable broadband service, regardless of where they live.

Now, three and a half years into the project, we’re extremely proud of the speed and quality of our delivery of Project Stratum. With a year to go we’re well on track to complete our target of connecting more than 81,000 premises and levelling up access to full fibre broadband the length and breadth of Northern Ireland.”

Conor Murphy, NI Minister for the Economy, said:

“Project Stratum has transformed the connectivity prospects for premises without access to next generation infrastructure. Along with ongoing commercial investment, this intervention has reduced the digital divide between rural and urban areas and has helped improve regional balance in much-needed broadband availability.”

I welcome the completion of the services delivered by Fibrus to eligible premises in the Randalstown area, and I look forward to seeing the completion of the remaining areas over the rest of the Project Stratum contract.”

However, data from the Building Digital UK agency, which was published in June 2023 (here), revealed that some 85,504 premises in N.Ireland might still need state aid help under the £5bn Project Gigabit broadband rollout scheme in order to access 1Gbps speeds, once Project Stratum completes.

The 85,504 figure was actually made up of 50,745 “Gigabit White” and 34,759 “Under Review” premises. Gigabit white premises are the only ones that can, at this stage, benefit from a public subsidy because those will not be covered by any commercial builds. But Under Review premises are those where commercial plans may exist, but they’ve been judged to be at risk of not being completed.

The latest data from the UK government’s Project Gigabit scheme notes that pre-procurement market engagement for a future roll-out contract in Northern Ireland has been carried out and the procurement process will start shortly. “It is anticipated this will extend coverage to up to an additional 60,000 premises“, which should in theory be enough to deliver universal coverage of gigabit broadband connectivity – most likely long before the 2030 target that has been set for the UK.

NOTE: Infracapital also owns or has stakes in Gigaclear, Ogi, Neos Networks and WightFibre etc.

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