Veon and Turkcell shareholder to spend £1bn on rural English fibre

Drew Ritchie Upp.jpg

The biggest shareholder in mobile operator Veon is to spend £1 billion building a fibre network in two rural English counties.

LetterOne, which owns 47.9% of Veon, is providing “the entirety of the equity financing”, for Upp, which plans to build a fibre-to-the-home network across the eastern English counties of Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Upp’s CEO Drew Ritchie (pictured) said: “We are excited to partner with an investor who matches our passion and ambition for the opportunity and shares our commitment to developing the UK’s digital infrastructure.”

Ritchie added: “I’m delighted to say that LetterOne has more than met these criteria, backing the business with substantial funding that allows us to concentrate on delivering next level broadband to the communities that need it most.”

A civil engineer, he was COO of rival fibre operator Gigaclear in 2019, after a career in the construction industry and the water industry.

Upp said that it plans to offer FTTH to one million premises in the two counties by 2025 — a slightly optimistic figure as they have a combined population of 1.7 million and only 906,000 households.

The company, which was called Fibre Me until two days ago, will use Openreach’s ducts and poles, it said in a statement, as well as infrastructure from other providers. Upp has not said whether it plans to be an open-access wholesale provider or whether it will sell only to its own retail customers. Capacity emailed Ritchie a request for a brief interview about Upp’s business model, but he has not yet replied.

LetterOne, which is controlled by Ukrainian born businessman Mikhail Fridman, has a 19.8% stake in Turkcell as well as its almost-majority stake in Veon. This is its first investment in fibre broadband.

LetterOne is chaired by former UK government minister Mervyn Davies, now Lord Davies of Abersoch. He said: “Every region of the UK has the potential to create breakthrough innovators, but no region can do this unless it is connected.”

Apart from Ritchie, the Upp team includes executives who have worked for Marconi and Orange. Directors and advisers include Peter Kamphuis, founder of Deutsche Glasfaser and Reggefiber, and Pippa Dunn, former CMO of EE and Orange UK.