Vodafone looking at investing in full-fiber network in Britain

LONDON (Reuters) – Vodafone is looking at investing in laying ultrafast full-fiber broadband connections to homes and businesses in Britain if it can find partners to share the costs, a top executive said on Wednesday.

The mobile network operator said on Monday it would spend 2 billion euros on new full-fiber connections in Germany and also has invested in fixed line broadband networks in Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery said he had the capital available to make an investment in Britain.

“We are a committed investor, our strategy is very clear,” he said at the launch of a report commissioned by Vodafone called “Digital Super Towns, Unlocking the UK’s digital potential”.

“If we can find the right economics and the right partners we’ll invest here.”

Britain’s broadband infrastructure is dominated by network operator Openreach, owned by the former state monopoly telecoms company BT, which provides connections to Vodafone and other service providers as well as BT.

Cable company Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global , has a rival network and there are a host of smaller providers like CityFibre.

Until recently Openreach has focused on deploying new technology to speed up the ‘last mile’ of existing copper phone lines instead of running fiber at much greater cost all the way into homes and businesses.

However, Openreach is now sounding out its wholesale service operator customers about whether they would be willing to co-invest in full fiber connections. The Telegraph newspaper said last month Vodafone was in talks about making such an investment.

“We would work with any provider who can give us the scale and access and good economic costs to connect fiber to the homes of Britain,” Jeffery said, but declined to comment on whether a deal with Openreach was in prospect.

Vodafone needed to make an adequate return, he said, which could need government incentives or partners taking a long-term strategic view to reduce the cost of individual connections.

The UK government’s digital economy minister Matt Hancock said on Wednesday the focus had to be on full-fiber and 5G mobile broadband networks after completing the roll-out of faster copper-based networks.

“The regulator Ofcom has legally separated BT and Openreach, and the test of that separation will be whether Openreach now works with other providers as well as with BT to provide the infrastructure for other retail companies to get out there,” he said at the same event.

A spokesman for Openreach said the company was continuing to consult with its operator customers about investing in full- fiber networks.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Greg Mahlich)