The chief executive of Vodafone has suggested broadband operators should club together to build an ultrafast broadband network for Britain.
Vittorio Colao said his company would be willing to invest with rivals in laying fibre optics into homes and businesses. It came as he continues to hold talks with Liberty Global that could see Vodafone’s UK mobile network combined with the Virgin Media cable network.
He backed calls for BT to be forced to sell off its network division Openreach, dismissing its plans for a multi-billion pound upgrade to broadband technology, called G.fast, as “yesterday’s vision and the vision of a monopolist”.
G.fast aims to squeeze higher speeds from the copper wires that currently make the final connection into premises, saving billions compared with replacing the wires with fibre optics.
“I think Britain needs more fibre, not more expensive football, which is what is happening now,” said Mr Colao.
“We would be prepared to put some equity in a vehicle that could deliver fibre at good conditions to us and also to others, whether that is an independent Openreach or another company.
“If the investment is big it is much better to share and then compete at the level of service.”
He declined to provide any update on talks with Liberty, which were announced last month. They are believed to focus on combining assets in the UK, German and the Netherlands. Vodafone said it was discussing assets swaps, although it is understood that a more complicated merger also remains a possibility.
A combination with Virgin Media would not preclude the possibility of further investment in ultrafast broadband, as the cable network covers only around half the country. Cable coverage is due to rise to two-thirds by 2020 as a result of “Project Lightning”, a £3bn investment by Liberty in filling in gaps in towns and cities where Virgin Media already operates.
Mr Colao floated the idea of a joint investment with rivals as Vodafone reported first-quarter results that showed the operating trends for the company continue to improve after years of decline.
Total organic service revenue, the key measure of its network sales, increased 0.8pc. Within that Europe was down 1.5pc, mainly due to a 5.5pc drop in Spanish sales, but the results were warmly received.
Vodafone shares closed up 2.8pc.
If Colao builds a national fibre network I believe the UK should award him the honorary title of "Italian Stallion".