Fiber Market Consolidation in the UK: A Discussion with Steve Leighton - ETI

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February 20, 2024

Fiber Market Consolidation in the UK: A Discussion with Steve Leighton

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch. The Broadband Bunch is sponsored by ETI Software and  VETRO FiberMap.

Pete Pizzutillo:

This episode of The Broadband Bunch is sponsored by ETI Software and VETRO FiberMap.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Broadband Bunch. We are a podcast that explores the stories, issues, and trends that are transforming the broadband industry. Today’s show is sponsored by ETI Software and VETRO FiberMap. We are grateful for their continued support and encourage you to check them out if you can.

Speaking of support, please be sure to subscribe, or rate us on your favorite app and follow us at for more updates and content. Today I’m excited to welcome Steve Leighton. He’s the former CEO and current advisor to Voneus Broadband. He’s also the Chair of the ISPA Council and most recently named the CEO of Zapgo. Steve, thanks for joining us today.

Steve Leighton:

Pleasure, Pete. Really good to be here.

Government Oversight to Telecom Entrepreneurship

Pete Pizzutillo:

You have a long history within the space and you’re branching out into new things. We’re going to dig into all that, but just before we do, can you maybe give our listeners a quick glimpse into how you ended up where you are today?

Steve Leighton:

Yeah, sure. And I’ll give you the short version, otherwise we’ll use all the time giving you my history. But very briefly, I am a graduate of the London School of Economics here in London. And then I had a very long and successful career in central government in the old Department of Trade and Industry.

My last role in that department before I left and started my first business was actually Head of Communication, Sponsorship, and Regulatory Policy. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but that effectively means that I had oversight of both the regulatory environment and the sponsorship environment for both fixed and mobile telecoms here in the UK. So with one hand I regulated those two industries and the other hand, I sponsored them to encourage more R&D in the sector, doing both of course with the interests of the public at hand.

So from there, I decided to jump out of government and start my first telecoms business. I thought there was more money to be made outside the government than inside government. Looking at some of the very successful people I met, particularly on a couple of visits to the US when I met people like John Chambers, who was CEO of Cisco Systems at the time. And these guys kind of inspired me to go and start my own thing.

Internet Access for UK Universities

So I started a business that effectively launched dial-up internet services. This was over 20 years ago. I provided dial-up internet services to UK universities. At the time, if you were a student at a UK University, the only way you could get online was by going into the library and accessing a system called JANET, which was the Joint Academic Network. And I changed all of that by putting connectivity directly to student bed spaces in halls of residence and giving them access to JANET from their bedroom, exploiting my old government connections to get access to JANET, that network.

And that business was hugely successful. We went from me and a laptop to 85 people and 72 university customers in a very short period of time. I then sold that business to Cisco Systems, ironically because we used a lot of Cisco kit on our network. And then from there that business has passed through several pairs of hands and is now owned, I believe, by the people that owned 3, so Hutchison Whampoa.

So effectively that was my first dip into broadband. I then ran a couple of more marketing-based online businesses before starting Voneus about 13 years ago. And Voneus started life as a technology business. Again, I like to spot gaps in the market, and there was a gap in the VoIP market at the time, the voiceover IP market. There were lots of products out there made by companies like Cisco, Avaya, ShoreTel, and Mitel, but they were all really aimed at large enterprises. And they were very expensive to implement.

How Voneus Transformed from VoIP Provider to Rural Connectivity Pioneer

So I wanted to disrupt that market and make VoIP affordable and accessible for everybody irrespective of scale and location. And that’s how Voneus started its journey. Halfway through that journey about six years ago, we realized that all of the people who wanted to buy our products, our VoIP product, well certainly not all of them, but a good percentage of them were in areas with poor connectivity. And of course, VoIP doesn’t work very well if you’ve got poor connectivity. So we started to provide fixed wireless access connectivity to some of those difficult-to-reach areas just so we could sell our hardware to the customers in those areas.

And then of course the connectivity piece became the tail that wagged the dog. We started to build larger and more ambitious fixed wireless access networks covering whole communities in rural parts of the UK. Then a few years after that about four years ago, we decided that we’d build a really solid base of fixed wireless access customers, the length and breadth of the UK. We decided we wanted to go into fiber, but we wanted to do that differently.

There were lots of guys in the market raising cash at the time. And they were all being backed by infrastructure funds. And they all have two things in common from a KPI perspective. Number one, build as many homes as you can because infrastructure firms want to build infrastructure. Number two, build them as cheaply as you can.

So if your two KPIs are to build lots of homes and build them cheaply, you go where there is density. You target your build in areas where there are lots of properties, which means that you are drawn to the cities, larger market towns, and the largest suburban areas. The problem with that is you’re probably not going to be the first one there. You’ve already got major incumbents in those places like BT Openreach, Virgin, or CityFibre.

Pioneering Rural Connectivity

So I was looking at this market and thinking, “I want to do it differently. I want to go for the areas that nobody else is going for, and I want to do the hard stuff.” So we stayed true to rural and semi-rural, and we started to build fiber networks initially over the top of our fixed wireless access networks because we already had a customer base. So one of the issues that other network providers was facing was take-up, while they were building lots of network but not getting great penetration.

I wanted to turn that model on its head and build a network knowing that I was going to get good penetration. So we started to overbuild our wireless networks. And then more recently we started to build fiber networks in areas that were new to us.

So where we didn’t have fixed wireless access technology, all of them remain rural and semi-rural. And the Voneus journey has been an absolutely amazing one. Again, it started just with me and a co-founder, and now it’s 350 people strong. It’s done 14 or 15 acquisitions of other businesses in the market. And we’ll talk a bit about consolidation later, I’m sure. And it’s now an incredibly healthy funding pattern because it’s funded by Macquarie, Australian Investment Bank. It’s got an equity partner there in the shape of the Israel Infrastructure Fund.

And recently a third equity partner came along Tiger Infrastructure from the US. And with the announcement a few weeks ago of the additional 250 million into Voneus, provided by that trio. We did a further three acquisitions alongside that injection of capital. The acquisition journey continues, and Voneus continues to grow from strength to strength. And that’s the brief version, Pete, of why I’m where I am today. Or, why Voneus is where it is today, I should say.

ISPA’s Mission to Boost Connectivity Uptake in the UK

Pete Pizzutillo:

Right. Well, I mean jumping from the government side to an entrepreneur, to a techie, to a businessperson, is an interesting journey. And I’m sure there’s a lot we can dig in to and learn from you. One thing we didn’t talk about is your current role as the chairman at ISPA. Maybe you could just help us understand what ISPA is all about, and I like to understand how you’re directing the focus of the ISPA events and content in the next 12 months.

Steve Leighton:

Yeah, sure. So ISPA is the primary Trade Association for internet service providers here in the UK. And it covers pretty much everybody in the market. So I took over as Chair about 18 months ago, having been a council member for about three years before becoming Chair. And ISPA is representative of the whole industry. So I sit on that council with Virgin, BT Openreach, and SKY are involved.

Everybody who’s anybody in the space is a member of ISPA. It has a genuine voice, and it has a voice on a regulatory platform. So we constantly lobby the government for changes that we want to be made in the sector, but it also has a fantastic platform for vendors and other providers of services to the telecoms community to promote their products and services to the membership.

And ISPA has got a range of priorities. Priority number one for next year is very much about take up. We’ve now got 55% of the UK covered with full fiber. So that means about 16.5 million homes and businesses have full fiber outside their front door today here in the UK from a very, very low base probably three or four years ago. So the build progress has been amazing, largely funded by commercial enterprise. However, we’re not taking the people of the UK on that journey with us. We’re not getting the take-up that we felt we would be getting on that network. So of those 16.5 million, we’ve still got less than 3 million fiber customers here in the UK.

Education and Infrastructure Expansion

So take-up is poor, and that’s going to be one of IPA’s key priorities next year. How do we take people on this journey with us? How do we get members of the UK public to buy fiber and start to use this infrastructure that we’ve all spent billions putting in place? And part of that is educating them. We have to show them the transformative power of fantastic connectivity and what it can do to their quality of life, whether they’re shopping, working, learning, gaming, or just watching TV.

We need to be able to demonstrate to those guys and show those guys how much more of those things they can do and how much more efficiently they can do them if they have a decent full fiber connection. So that’s priority number one for ISPA certainly for the next 12 months. We’re also thinking quite hard about the construction piece, right? I mentioned we’ve got about 50% of the UK now covered with full fiber. That still means there’s a lot to go, right?

There’s still another 13-and-a-half, 14 million homes and businesses to get covered. And what we’re seeing in the market is a little bit of investor step back. I’m not going to call it a lack of confidence, but the investment community has invested quite heavily in this infrastructure.

And because they’re not seeing the take-up, they’re getting a bit concerned about throwing more money in. They’d like to see more evidence of take-up before they continue to put big cash behind the sector. So clearly as a country, as an economy, the UK has to carry on building. We have to get to that 90%, 95% full fiber, whatever the number will end up being with the balance connected via some kind of gigabit-capable wireless, or satellite technology.

Government Assistance in UK Broadband

So we want Gigabit UK to happen. We want to deliver full gigabit connectivity to every single home and business in the UK, all 30 million of them. And we need external funding to allow us to make that happen. So that means we’ve got a little bit of work to do to restore investor confidence in the sector. So really those are the two priorities to continue the path towards that 100% gigabit capable connectivity and to get more people to take up the services that we can now deliver to the public.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, thank you for all that. That was a great overview of the UK market in general. And you mentioned some of the trends. Is there any government assistance that’s coming? I know they’ve talked about the Gigabit Program. Is that significant enough to help solve some of the problems?

Steve Leighton:

Not really. I mean, it’s very helpful around the edges. So there are two particular government schemes that are relevant to the broadband sector. There’s Project Gigabit, which is the largest scheme. It’s about 5 billion pounds worth of cash made available by the government to support the rollout of projects across certain counties of the UK, including in some of those counties, some of the more difficult-to-reach premises.

Now the Project Gigabit program is a large-scale program, which has a lot of benefits if you are a large-scale business. So certainly, Voneus doesn’t get involved in that Project Gigabit program simply because there’s quite a lot of administration involved in putting together a bid because you are trying to cover a large chunk of a county within the UK. And at the end of it, there’s no guarantee of success. We could spend an awful lot of money on headcount and on systems to allow us to bid for a Project Gigabit contract and then not secure that contract. So we weren’t prepared to take that risk.

Rural Gigabit Voucher and Its Impact on Broadband Expansion

But there’s a second scheme called the rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme, which is far easier to manage and navigate your way around from a corporate perspective. So that scheme allows us to claim an amount of money for every single property that we connect in a rural area if it’s a qualifying area. So we don’t get cash just for going past the premises. We have to actually win a customer, connect a customer, validate through speed tests that we’re delivering a gigabit-capable service to that customer, and then the government will write us a check because we’ve connected up a difficult-to-reach premise. Now so far, Voneus has been hugely successful in terms of securing gigabit vouchers, rural gigabit vouchers, and will continue to do so as long as the scheme is in existence.

There were rumors the scheme would be shut down about 18 months ago, but because ISPA lobbied aggressively and heavily to keep the scheme intact, because it’s not just Voneus that benefits from that, it’s anybody building in these rural and semi-rural areas, the government decided to extend the scheme and commit some more money to it.

So those are really the two areas where the government assists. One effectively targeted at larger enterprise, although open to smaller enterprises if they’re successful enough to be able to put together a bid for a bespoke area, and one very much focused on the guys who do the difficult-to-reach and the harder-to-build sites outside the major urban carnations.

Streamlining Infrastructure Permissions and Simplifying Broadband Switching

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, thank you for that. And you mentioned ISPA has a hand in some of the shaping of legislation and regulatory thinking in the UK. Are there any current regulatory blockers that you see that are preventing kind of improving the adoption rates?

Steve Leighton:

I think blockers is probably a strong word. There are certainly things that we could be doing better and where we would need the government’s assistance. When you’re building infrastructure, sometimes just securing permission to go across pieces of land or go past domiciles is onerous and time-consuming.

And actually, that could be a lot easier and a lot quicker. So we’re pushing the government quite hard on that. Then switching, one-touch switch is an issue for us. ISPA invests in an organization called TOTSCo, the one-touch switch company. And effectively that allows people to move broadband providers easily. So one of the reasons that we’re not seeing the take-up on fiber that we’d like to see is because it’s quite difficult to leave a company.

If you’re a customer of a large business and you’re living in an area where you’re getting, I don’t know, 30 to 40 meg from a fiber to the cabinet connection, you’re probably thinking, “Well, this is okay for me right now. I’m not struggling. I can do a bit of Netflix. I can work from home. My video calls are okay. I can do a bit of shopping.” Obviously, if you’re an avid gamer, speeds around 30, probably aren’t going to do it for you. But not everyone is an avid gamer.

Simplifying Broadband Switching

But these guys have got a combination of difficulty switching and inertia. So what we want to do is make it really easy for people to switch. And we know it’s not a pricing issue because a lot of the fiber companies are out there promoting really good entry-level products to members of the public. So they’re offering a great service for a great price, and we still can’t get people to leave. So part of that is inertia. Part of that is the difficulty associated with switching. And one-touch switch is another area that we’re lobbying the government quite hard on to make it super easy for people to move from one provider to another.

Pete Pizzutillo:

And is the one-touch switch timeframe set, right? I think it’s next year.

Steve Leighton:

Yeah. So the API, the platform to allow people to do that has got to be ready for the 1st of April next year. So if you’re a business that’s going to secure customers through that One-Touch Switch platform, you’ve got to be ready by the 1st of April next year.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. And there’s some complexity behind that. The simpler you make it for the consumer seems like there’s some challenge on the backend.

Insights and Advice from Voneus’ 15 Acquisitions

Steve Leighton:

There is a challenge behind the scenes, exactly, right? So there are some real challenges for businesses, but most of the altnets that I see, in fact all the large guys I think, are ready already for that. Most of the altnets are doing what they need to do, and I think we’ll be in good shape when we get to the end of March next year.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Switching gears, you mentioned some things along Voneus’ journey. I think you mentioned 15 acquisitions, right? And there tends to be some of that discussion and consolidation happening right now. What insight, or advice could you provide to folks that are going down the acquisition journey, so the acquirer? What are some things to be thinking about? And what are some of the painful lessons learned that you guys have all run into?

Steve Leighton:

Yeah. And there are some painful lessons as well. I think my first piece of advice is to have a bespoke team that looks after this. Don’t try and do it as part of BAU, business as usual, because it doesn’t work. You’ve got to have a dedicated force internally, almost like a SWAT team who can run these acquisition pieces for you because you’re not just integrating two businesses. You’re integrating technologies, customers, payment systems, and customer communication systems.

There are so many elements to an acquisition that will define its success for you. And the more people you’ve got focused on that and the more people you’ve got accountable for making sure that each one of those acquisition elements works smoothly, the easier it is to do them. Voneus is really good at it now. They have their SWAT team; they have their processes and procedures. And they get these things done.

Consolidation in the Broadband Market

Most of our acquisitions up until recently have been relatively small. So we’ve been mopping up small wireless providers. We’ve also mopped up a couple of smaller fiber providers. But alongside the target investment recently we did a couple of slightly larger acquisitions. And the process around integrating those has been first-class.

Pete Pizzutillo:

So one question I have to ask, right? There was the rush to build, as you mentioned, as many homes as cheaply as possible. And the take rate assumptions were off by a magnitude of something significant. Is the consolidation thinking just another form of that optimistic business case? Or do you think people are actually learning from the past and trying to figure out how to finally stitch together sustainable, affordable, reliable networks that can serve a community that can afford over time?

Steve Leighton:

Yeah. I mean there’s more than one question in there. And there is no easy answer to that. I think consolidation in the market was inevitable almost from day one. Let me give you an example, Pete. So I always like to look at raw data and give you real examples of what’s going on. There’s a town in Essex in the UK called Braintree. Braintree’s not a big town. It’s probably no more than 20 to 30,000 homes, okay? It has five full fiber networks. Braintree is the first town in the UK to have five full fiber networks.

Opportunities and Challenges in the UK Broadband Market

So that means five times their roads are being dug up. And it’s not to every home in Braintree, but there are five networks across Braintree. Now, that’s just not sustainable as a model. Okay. If every one of those network providers had an assumption that they would get 30 or 40% of the market in Braintree, the numbers just don’t add up. So there will be casualties. And the beauty of consolidation is that if you’ve got an appetite to be a consolidator, or an appetite to be a consolidatee, then there are real opportunities out there right now in the UK market.

I mentioned investor nervousness earlier. It’s not always about investor nervousness, it’s sometimes about debt provider nervousness, right? A lot of these business modelers are underpinned by equity but then enhanced by debt. And the debt providers are the guys that are getting nervous because of course they want to see that take-up because they want to see the revenue because it gives them confidence that their debt will at some point in the future be repaid.

So the debt community is backing away from fiber at a fairly rapid rate unless you’ve got a model that works. Now, Voneus again is fortunate that it’s got a supportive debt provider, and it’s hitting its marks. So Voneus is continuing to work as a debt facility, as an opportunity for debt to be deployed. But a lot of companies out there are struggling to secure debt and on the back of that struggle to secure debt, their equity investors are taking a step back and saying, “We need to really think carefully before we put more money into this. What’s the appetite in the market for us to be consolidated?”

Key Considerations for Medium-Sized Full Fiber Networks

And that process has just started, but I think over the next 12 to 18 months, we’re going to see an awful lot of consolidation in the market. I genuinely believe, and this is a personal opinion, that the companies that are backed by the funds with the biggest pockets. The deepest pockets will be the ones that can consolidate the market. We’ve got about 130 to 140 providers in the UK right now. We’ll probably end up at less than a third of that will be sub-50 in three to five years. But those 50 will probably owned by no more than five or six funds. You’ve got a number of companies and their portfolio.

Pete Pizzutillo:

So that’s an interesting perspective. So if I’m not backed by a large infrastructure fund and I’m a medium-sized full fiber network, what are some of the things I should be thinking about in terms of preparing myself to be acquired or putting myself in a position to get rolled up?

Steve Leighton:

Well, make sure you’ve got a solid network, okay? Because there are standards that you should adhere to when you’re building. Make sure that what you are putting in the ground is A, cataloged properly. So the documentation piece has got to be spot on. That’s the crown jewel as far as I’m concerned. You’ve always got to know what you’ve built; where it is; and what you can carry across that network from a traffic perspective.

So get that piece right. Get the standardization right; get your customer service piece right; and get your backend systems right. And then I think there’s a really good opportunity for you to either consolidate or be consolidated if you’re getting the basics right. It seems strange talking about getting the basics right in a market like this. But lots of people don’t do that because they went off so quickly and built so quickly and did so much in such a short period of time.

Ensuring Transparency and Accountability

It’s fairly obvious as you look at some of these models that corners were cut when it came to the quality of build. And this refusal, or reluctance for people to take up isn’t always about the fact that there’s a fiber outside the door, and I want to connect to it. Some of the companies are saying, “Well, we go past 200,000 homies.” But the definition of a home pass is within 750 meters of their fiber. That’s not an overnight installation.

If you’re 750 meters away from the nearest fiber, you’re not a home passed. And that’s a fairly major piece of civil engineering to get you connected. So there are issues around that as well. So be clear about what you have and what you haven’t haven’t got.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. We’re wondering if that’s going to play out on the same side on this side of the pond with the US, the gold rush that’s happening. And as you said, it’s build it fast, and build it cheap. Cut corners because it’s a land-grab mode. And so the maturity of both, the documentation of the network as well as the integration and even at the data layer level is shocking when you walk into these medium to larger ISPs that are not looking at models.

Exploring Opportunities in the EV Sector

Steve Leighton:

It is exactly the same over here. And yet all the tools are out there for you to be able to do that properly. Yes, it might mean a little bit more upfront investment, but people are now finding out that you can’t retrofit some of this stuff. You’ve got to make the investment on day one and put all of those flags in the ground on day one and get it right from day one. This is an important lesson for people to learn.

Pete Pizzutillo:

I appreciate that. Thank you. So we mentioned at the outset that you’ve taken on a new role in the EV sector. Can you just share more about what drove you to think about that market?

Steve Leighton:

Yeah, it’s a fascinating market. It feels to me like the fiber market seven or eight years ago. But with a couple of core differences. Difference number one is there’s no incumbent. So when we started Voneus and all these other nets got funded by the infrastructure funds, BT was already out there. Virgin was already out there. So we were all trying to find a path through, around, and between those guys because they were already in a huge chunk of the UK. So there was a big incumbent controlling the field. We were trying to find the pockets of the field that were empty in order to maximize our potential returns on our business model.

Clearly, some have decided to take these guys on head-to-head in the competitive environment, and those are the guys who are potentially struggling right now. In this market, in EV, there is no incumbent. So it’s a genuinely open playing field. And the other point to make on that, and let’s look at the numbers. I mentioned already the UK’s 30 million homes and businesses. If you add up all of the committed homes pass numbers from all of the funded fiber entities in the UK today, you get to 72 million, okay? So that immediately tells you that it’s going to be a crowded market, and there’s going to be significant overbuild.

Bridging the EV Infrastructure Gap

And I mentioned the model of Braintree where you’ve got five fiber networks. Around Braintree, by the way, there are towns with none. So go figure that one. Okay, I’m not sure if that’s happening in the US, but that’s certainly happening over here. You take that into EV, and you add up all of the commitments around EV rollout. You get to about 120,000 public charges. The UK government has a target of 400,000 public charges by 2032.

So you don’t have to be a genius to see there’s a gap in the market there. And that’s a gap in the market that I’m quite keen to exploit with Zapgo, my new company. And much like Voneus, Zapgo is targeting underserved parts of the UK. So I’m not interested in motorway service stations; I’m not interested in on-route destinations. I’m not interested in spending two years negotiating a deal with Starbucks or McDonald’s to go alongside their driving facilities across the UK. I’m focusing on destination locations in underserved parts of the UK.

So I’m looking at places like garden centers, farm shops, leisure centers, sports facilities, golf clubs, small hotels, pubs, restaurants, and places where people want to spend some of their time and have fun while their car is being charged. So our network will be rapid and ultra-rapid charges only. That means they’ll take your car from 20% to north of 80 to 90% in well under an hour. And we’re putting that in parts of the UK where the ratios of EVs to charging infrastructure are at their lowest.

So to give you an example, in London where I live, there’s one public charge point for every 28 EVs on the road. They’re not all fast charge points. Some of those are lamppost chargers that do seven and a half kilowatts outside the house. But there’s one public charger for every 28 vehicles.

Leveraging Data Science to Identify Underserved EV Charging Areas

If you go to the southwest of England, Devon, Somerset, or Cornwall, that jumps to 1 for every 75 EVs. When you go into Wales, Mid and West Wales where we are looking, that goes up to 1 in every 80. And up in the northwest and the northeast of England, it’s back to 1 for every 70 to 75. So we’re targeting our building into those areas that are currently underserved, where there are great destinations. There are lots of places people want to go and spend some time, but nobody’s really looking at them yet.

So that’s going to be our focus. And we’re taking the same data science that we used at Voneus to roll out the EV infrastructure. We’re using exactly the same selection criteria. Let’s find out where the competition is and eliminate those areas. Let’s find out where the connectivity to the grid is because we need to be able to get our infrastructure on the grid. We need to be able to get the power delivered to our sites. Let’s find out where the traffic hotspots are. Where do people go? How many visitors do these sites get every day? What’s the traffic throughput?

And we’re using all of that detailed data, in fact, using a lot of fiber mapping tools to work out where we put our infrastructure. And we were only funded a month ago, and we were funded by a very large Canadian pension fund for which I’m incredibly grateful. They’re a very responsible and sustainable investor with a proven track record investing in sustainability. And they’re very kind of supportive of our philosophy and our structure.

Scaling Infrastructure to Match Market Growth

Yes, some of the sites will be harder to build, and yes, some of them might be more expensive to build. But we’ll get the take-up. Much like Voneus. When Voneus builds a network, we secure the customer because there’s nobody else there. And that’s exactly how we’re approaching the EV market. I think the EV market has got a huge amount of potential, not just in the UK, but everywhere.

Think about legislation in the UK, the government has called slightly in terms of its commitment to ban sales of internal combustion engine cars by — it was initially 2032. They then pushed it out by five years. But they’ve still said that they expect 80% of all new cars bought by 2030 to be electric. At the moment, we’ve only got 2.6% of the vehicles on the roads in the UK that are fully electric. And we’ve still got a shortage of infrastructure at that low level of penetration.

In five years, that’s going to be north of 20%. In seven or eight years it’s going to be north of 50% of all the vehicles on our road will be electric. The infrastructure has to catch up and it has to keep pace. Right now, we’re already several years behind the curve in terms of rolling this stuff out. And that’s effectively why I made the jump across because I can spot the opportunity. And I’ve got a team with me that has got a huge amount of experience in rolling out infrastructure.

The Future of Fiber in the Next 24 Months

Pete Pizzutillo:

That’s helpful. You’ve been listening to The Broadband Bunch, and we’ve been speaking with Steve Leighton. He’s the former CEO and current advisor to Voneus Broadband, the Chair of ISPA Council, and he’s most recently telling us about his new appointment as the CEO of Zapgo. Steve, thanks for drawing a lot of those parallels between what you’ve seen in the altnet space and into this new space. I just wanted to get to your thoughts about the fiber space. How is it going to change in the next 24 months? What’s your hope that things that we figure out specific to the UK market, what do things look like?

Steve Leighton:

Yeah. I want to see two things happen. I want to see people get real confidence in fiber. So I want to see much, much greater levels of take-up. The infrastructure is there. In most cases, it’s world-class infrastructure. It can deliver a transformational experience to the user. We just need to make sure that we get those messages across to the public here loud and clear.

So I want to see much more take up. If we can do that over the next 24 months, that will be a massive tick-in-the-box and a hugely successful benchmark for the industry. We talked about consolidation. Not all of the companies that are here today will be there in 24 months. There will be some casualties; there’ll be some bodies in the road as they say. But I think those companies provided that they are snapped up by the right consolidator and provided their integrated professionally and successfully.

ISPA’s Initiatives and Zapgo’s Innovations

The important thing is the customer. It’s about making sure in situations like that where you are consolidated, or where your business is struggling and you have no option but to be consolidated, you’ve got to make sure that the customer doesn’t suffer as a part of that process and that you keep the customer confidence in the sector high. I’d like to see investor confidence retained within the sector.

And there are signs now that investors, if not debt providers, are increasingly confident still about the prospects for full fiber and for gigabit connectivity generally. Clearly, from an ISPA perspective, we’ll be doing everything we can in the background to expedite take-up, expedite the One Touch Switch program, and expedite any other regulatory issues that the industry brings to us that will help us to accelerate an already decent pace of rollout.

Pete Pizzutillo:

That’s great. And so how can our listeners learn more about ISPA and Zapgo?

ISPA’s Online Resources and Zapgo’s Vision

Steve Leighton:

Well, let me start with ISPA. So ISPA is a dedicated organization here in the UK. There is a website which is ISPA, If you click on that, that will show you everything that we do, all of the systems and processes and projects that we’re involved in as an organization. I would recommend everybody go and have a look at the ISPA website because there’s a huge amount you can do there to interact with the industry across the UK generally. And Zapgo is just straightforward, You can have a look at our website. Look at our vision, mission, and purpose, and see the difference that we’re going to make to the EV charging market here in the UK.

Voneus made a massive difference to people in difficult-to-reach areas. And I want Zapgo to do the same from an EV charging perspective. In a few years, we’ll have no choice but to buy an EV. And not everyone has the luxury of being able to charge on a driveway at home. 50% of homes in the UK don’t have their own driveway. So we’ve got to make sure that the charging infrastructure is there, even in the far-flung corners of the UK for people to be able to utilize it and travel with confidence. We want to remove range anxiety as an issue for EV users here in the UK and make the whole process a really comfortable, rewarding, seamless customer experience.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. It’s great. I never heard the term range anxiety. But you’re right, people who are thinking about buying EVs consider it. So, Steve, I want to thank you for taking the time to share not only your background but everything that you see going on in the UK market with ISPA. I wish you the best of luck with Zapgo. And it sounds like another great mission that you’ve undertaken, and I’d love to get you back in a year from now to kind of see where your journey’s taken you.

Stay Updated with ISPA Events and Resources

Steve Leighton:

Yeah. I’d love to do that. Let’s not leave it three years this time. Let’s come back in a year and see where we are. That’d be great.

Pete Pizzutillo:

That would be great. And I would like to suggest that everybody please check out ISPA. They do a lot of great events. We’ve been active there. There are a lot of resources. But if you’re in this space in the UK, that’s the place to be to keep your finger on the pulse. So keep up the great work, Steve. We appreciate it.

Steve Leighton:

It is always a pleasure to talk to you, Pete. Thanks again for having me on.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Thanks for listening to another episode of The Broadband Bunch. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe or give us a rating. You can also follow us at for more resources as well as additional interviews. And if you have a story to tell, like Steve, give us a shout. We’d love to add your voice to our show. Thanks again for listening.