BT facing more broadband competiton from billionaire-backed startup Upp

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BT Group PLC (LON:BT.A) is facing increased competition from various directions, with reports that a Russian billionaire is funding the rollout of a rival superfast broadband network coming a day after newly merged rival Virgin Media O2 set out its plan to “shake up the market”.

Upp, which is planning to roll out full-fibre broadband in eastern England, has announced that LetterOne investment group has taken up its £1bn equity financing in full.

LetterOne is controlled by Mikhail Fridman, a Ukranian-born, North London-based oligarch lives who made his billions from selling his stake in Russian oil giant TNK-BP.

Upp, which is led by Drew Ritchie, formerly chief operating officer of fibre rollout rival Gigaclear, said it has secured the necessary regulatory approvals and is deploying its own regional fibre backhaul networks, capitalising on growing demand for ultrafast broadband as more people work from home and stream video over the internet.

Initial work by contractors is taking place in towns “across Norfolk and Lincolnshire”, the London-based company said, with mostly using the ducts and poles owned by BT’s Openreach arm, as well as accessing assets from other infrastructure owners “to accelerate deployment and minimise traffic disruption”.

Helped by the £1bn commitment from LetterOne, Upp’s aim is to make “competitively priced full fibre a reality for areas where broadband speeds are currently well below the national average”.

Upp was founded by four British entrepreneurs: Robert Easton (former Partner of Carlyle) is chairman, Peter Kamphuis (founder of Deutsche Glasfaser and Reggefiber) is an adviser focused on technology and network build, Pippa Dunn (former CMO of EE and Orange UK) advises on branding and marketing, while Jason Goodall (Global CEO and board member of NTT) was a founding investor.

Lord Davies of Abersoch, chairman of LetterOne, said “We are excited to partner with the Upp team to bring next level broadband to underserved regions of the UK. Every region of the UK has the potential to create breakthrough innovators, but no region can do this unless it is connected.”

A day earlier, Virgin Media O2 boss Lutz Schueler confirmed that the merged company role will invest at least £10bn in the UK over the next five year, including adding gigabit broadband and 5G services, as well as expanding its existing network across the country.

He suggested the company could support BT’s ultrafast broadband rollout, which The Telegraph reported that risked “igniting competition concerns”.

Lutz said the newly merged company was the “complete package” and was “ready to shake up the market and be the competitor the country needs at a time when choice has never been more important”.

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