Telecoms companies are rolling out fibre optic networks worldwide and the technology is snowballing. Countries such as South Korea with advanced digital networks are setting standards of up to 10Gbps. Such speeds cannot be achieved cost effectively by any technology other than fibre optic.
But installing new cable or replacing existing copper cable can be costly, disruptive and time-consuming, particularly in urban areas. Planning permission needs to be obtained; roads and pavements may have to be closed. There’s the risk of damage to existing utilities and infrastructure. In conservation areas, trench digging may be denied completely. It can cost tens of thousands of pounds and many months to replace a single kilometre of cable. Digging in urban areas represents approximately 80 per cent of operators’ fibre installation/cable replacement budgets.
It’s this lengthy and cumbersome process that we are disrupting. Fast2Fibre’s patented processes enable fibre optics to be inserted and redundant telecoms and power cables with minimal need for excavation. That’s right, no need for digging up.
A disruptive technology
You can read about the details of our extraction method here but it involves compressing the inner copper core of a cable through the use of a biodegradable fluid which is pumped under pressure - our IP resides in the pump and the fluid.
As a result, our technology speeds up the process of installation and replacement. A team can extract up to 500 metres per day compared to the 50 to 200 metres that an excavation crew might manage. Our costs are 60 per cent lower than excavation. And because crews can go from manhole to manhole, there is no disruption or need for planning permission. The operators also gain from recovering the valuable copper, which still belongs to them.
Over the past three years, we have been developing the product and proving the concept. Trials have been completed in the UK and Europe. We have an Austrian subsidiary which has a workshop and underground chamber to create pulling conditions in an underground environment - it’s a unique facility.
A business model to scale up
We have also developed the management structure and our licensing business model. We don’t seek to be a contractor. We will do a trial and proof of concept, and then transfer the knowledge to the contractor’s operators. The operators pay a licence for every single metre of cable extracted.
There is no process like it anywhere in the world. It is truly disruptive. So it has taken a lot of time to get through to the end of the procurement processes of the international telecoms and cable operators. But we are now engaged in active commercial development in the Czech Republic, Germany, the UK – and the Caribbean! – with a pipeline of further enquiries.
At a tipping point
So we are now at a tipping point. To date, this has been built on shareholder funds and EU grant money. We are now looking for strategic investors to help us in the growth of the business - the Scaleup Programme is helping us to identify those potential investors.
Aside from capital, our other need is management. This is another aspect where we benefit from being on the Scaleup Programme. We have got the business to this point with no sales and marketing function - it’s all been achieved by reputation, awareness and our website.
But now we need capital and management input to achieve full commercial delivery. We need to have our own boots on the ground. The business will benefit from hiring younger, ambitious managers from the industry with operational and logistic skills to take this business forward. And there’s no doubt that Fast2Fibre could be worth in excess of £100m - the potential for scale is staggering.
Aside from capital, our other need is management. This is another aspect where we benefit from being on the Scaleup Programme.
Paul Hughes, Fast2Fibre