Nexfibre acquires Upp to expand gigabit network in East of England

The growing power and importance of the UK’s independent broadband sector has gained official recognition from recently launched UK fibre joint venture nexfibre, which, in partnership with Virgin Media O2 (VMO2), has acquired full-fibre East of England altnet Upp.

Formerly known as FibreMe, Upp was founded in 2021 by a group of British entrepreneurs with 160 years of telecoms industry expertise in companies including BT, Orange, Ericsson, KCOM and Gigaclear. Since then, the company has delivered full-fibre connectivity to homes and businesses in the East of England and East Midlands. It offers a range of residential and business packages designed to meet the diverse needs of its customer base, covering and connecting over 20 towns and cities, including areas such as Boston, Lincoln, Norwich and King’s Lynn.

Nexfibre is the result of a £4.5bn investment from Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) shareholders, Liberty Global and Telefónica, alongside investment firm InfraVia Capital Partners. Its launch is designed to create the UK’s first national-scale challenger to BT Openreach, boosting choice and competition in the market. Nexfibre will initially roll out fibre to five million homes not currently served by Virgin Media O2’s network by 2026, with the opportunity to expand to an additional two million homes. VMO2 aims to have a fibre footprint reaching 80% of the UK when coupled with its own fibre upgrade plans, which complete in 2028.

The all-cash acquisition is in two stages. VMO2 will initially purchase Upp and carry out integration work – this will include aligning systems, completing in-progress fibre build and offering VMO2 services to Upp’s approximately 4,000 customers – but nexfibre will ultimately fund the acquisition through a back-to-back agreement to buy and own Upp’s network assets, which will amount to 175,000 premises. This integration work is projected to be completed within the next 12 months. In all, nexfibre will invest upwards of £350m to pass more than 500,000 premises with fibre in the East of England by 2026.

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Nexfibre regards the acquisition as complementing the company’s existing strategy, accelerating its fibre footprint by 175,000 premises in the East of England, gaining a regional fibre network with low overlap of the existing Virgin Media O2 footprint and a build engine that will continue expansion in the region.

Through its access to the nexfibre network, Virgin Media O2 will extend the reach of its gigabit connectivity to more homes. Over the next 12 months, Virgin Media O2 will proceed with completing Upp’s build currently in progress, integrating and aligning Upp’s fibre network and systems, and offering Upp customers a wide range of Virgin Media O2 services. 

Upp’s existing retail and business customers will be offered a range of Virgin Media O2 services in the coming months, with no service changes occurring in the near term as a result of the transaction.

“Since we began in early 2021, Upp has grown to deliver the quality, scale and excellence in customer service envisaged from the start”
Drew Ritchie, Upp

“Upp is delighted to have been acquired by nexfibre, in partnership with Virgin Media O2, and we are looking forward to continuing the roll-out of full fibre in the East of England. It is an important recognition of the scale and quality of the network that we have built, and all the hard work and effort put in over the last two years,” said Upp CEO Drew Ritchie. “Since we began in early 2021, Upp has grown to deliver the quality, scale and excellence in customer service envisaged from the start. We are all personally very proud of having this recognised by our thousands of customers and through the purchase by industry leaders.”

In June 2023, the company announced that after initiating trials of the XGS-PON optical networking technology capable of offering customers symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 10Gbps on its live full-fibre infrastructure towards the end of 2022, VMO2 had become its anchor tenant and was starting to sell commercial services over the nexfibre infrastructure in addition to its own network, which supports download speeds of 1.1Gbps.

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Nexfibre chairman Andrea Salvato said: “Our acquisition of Upp’s network assets represents an important step as we continue to build a world-class fibre network along with our wholesale partner Virgin Media O2. At nexfibre, we are on a mission to build and expand our network in suburban and semi-rural areas, closing the digital divide and boosting local economies. Upp is a high-quality regional fibre network in the East of England and will accelerate our roll-out in an area where we expect to invest more than £350m by 2026.”

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media O2, added: “Virgin Media O2 is playing a key role in supporting nexfibre with integration work and build, and through our wholesale partnership we will extend the reach of our gigabit connectivity in the East of England. Building on the strong foundations that exist today, Virgin Media O2 and nexfibre have a clear strategy in place to be the biggest fibre challenger in the country, offering greater choice and competition to the BT status quo.”

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