More information on next steps for Welsh Superfast broadband expected
Wales is set to announce some more detail around its next Superfast Cymru project and the big thing we know already is that there will be multiple lots and that the procurement process will hopefully see contracts signed in spring, and given the planning that will be needed to avoid a repeat of the confusion that was both the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly and Openreach we don't expect roll-outs to start until much later in 2018 i.e. autumn onwards.
The big question is how many lots will Wales be split into, too few and little is gained by splitting up, too many and costs of administration will go up and the resulting coverage mosaic may be confusing, too few would be two lots, too many would be 20 or more lots.
We suspect that 6 or 7 lots is most likely and this will encourage smaller firms to bid, thus breaking the perceived BT monopoly, but then potentially creating mini rural monopolies and while there are communities in Wales with no superfast coverage at all, there are more with a mixture of coverage and with the FTTP roll-out component of the last contract coming to a dead stop what will happen to those part built FTTP connections is a big question. In an ideal world, those bits of FTTP where physical infrastructure is literally hanging around would see something like the gainshare windfall being used to see those completed as part of the move towards a true 100% superfast footprint.
Technology wise, we expect to see a mixture of technology with real potential for a fixed wireless provider to win some lots, which is a bit of a step backwards, in the same way that if Openreach won a lot it was to not deliver any more FTTP but just use FTTC, even in Ceredigion where the coverage levels of superfast are just 75.8% there is actually FTTP available to 15.6% of premises and pushing that percentage higher should be a priority today.
So which firms are we expecting to maybe bid, probably Openreach, AirBand and Gigaclear, but that is just speculation we have no secret insight into the closed world of the procurement process. There may even be a lot that no-one is interested in, or just one bid that is deemed not acceptable.
One stumbling block is that with the expected 90,000 to 98,000 that the project will need to cover, the expected budget of £80 million is only around £800 per premise and compared to the money being allocated in other parts of the UK (Scotland in particular) this suggests a technology mixture where FTTC and wireless will dominate once again.