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Soros Invests $75M In London Fiber-Optic Startup

Hyperoptic plans to implement "fiber-to-the-home" broadband technology in more than 500,000 British households within 5 years.

Hyperoptic, a local supplier of 1-Gbps fiber broadband, has just won a £50 million ($75 million) cash injection from a finance group led by high-profile investor George Soros.

The three-year-old company is basing its plans on the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) approach, in which optical fiber comprises the final connection to the subscriber's premises. In contrast, with rival technology FTTC (fiber-to-the-cabinet) the new access network architecture ends at the street, with the final leg of connection back down to older (and, according to FTTH advocates, much more constrained) copper wires.

The FTTH approach is much less common in the U.K. than in countries like Japan, where it makes up around half of all high-speed connections; or the U.S., where it accounts for about 10%, according to data from the Fiber to the Home Council Europe. In addition, the U.K.'s dominant player in fiber, BT, has plowed the bulk of its investment into an FTTC topology.

[ Hyperoptic's winfall is more the exception than the norm in the London tech environment these days. Read Does London Tech Scene Need More Money? ]

It seems Hyperoptic sees a big future in messing with BT's plans. The startup's website claims to offer service that's 10 times faster than "the nearest major competitor" and 140 times faster than the U.K. average of 7 Mbps.

Hyperoptic plans to use its investment cash to implement service in more than 500,000 British homes within the next five years. (To put that goal in perspective, the company currently boasts a mere 20,000 customers in London.) It also wants to start offering a commercial broadband to business and commercial clients, and to develop new products, such as IPTV and cloud computing offerings.

According to Louis Armstrong, one of Hyperoptic's non-executive board members, "The U.K.'s major property developers, managers, investors and owners alike are awakening to [superfast broadband] and will soon begin to realize the significant benefits -- including increased value and marketability of a property -- of 'future-proofing' their assets, taking smart decisions today about what will be absolutely critical for tomorrow." In other words, Hyperoptic hopes home buyers will be more likely to lay down cash for a property that could boast FTTH capacity. The company cites consumer surveys to give this idea some credence.

Soros, famous for his sometimes dramatic interventions in currency trading, is now backing such plans via a private investment vehicle called Quantum Strategic Partners, described as "a private investment vehicle focused upon long duration investments and managed by Soros Fund Management LLC exclusively for the benefit of Mr. George Soros and Soros family clients."

In any case, the U.K. is clearly starting to look like a FTTH laggard. The Fiber to the Home Council Europe claims that as of June 2012 there were only about 125,000 FTTH subscribers in all of Britain, representing only 0.05% of British households. Meanwhile, the report predicts, about one out of every ten homes on the planet -- including 100 million households in China alone -- will subscribe to FTTH by 2015. It also reports that European countries such as Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Latvia are approaching "near universal access to fiber."

Our 2013 IT Spending Priorities Survey shows IT pros are playing catch-up after a period of underfunding. Also in the new, all-digital Vicious Circle issue of InformationWeek: Twitter's security boost might be too little, too late. (Free registration required.)

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