Neale on winning the race

Hyperoptic has entered scale up mode and with a fresh set of priorities MD for Infrastructure Lisa Neale is firmly in the connectivity race and relishes the challenge.

In November 2021 Neale was appointed by Hyperoptic as Managing Director – Infrastructure to ensure it achieves its network roll out ambitions. Neale’s prior experience includes several leadership roles at Openreach, including most recently the Director of Fibre Build in UK East, and Director of Fibre and Network Delivery in UK West. “I was looking for my next challenge in the wider fibre infrastructure space,” stated Neale. “We are in a race to build – to get there first and finish first and then attract customers onto the network. I will be able to add a lot of value from consolidating everything I have learnt through my career.”

Neale’s current priorities include getting her division set up to lead the race. “It functions well but I want it supercharged to scale,” she said. “This means meeting all the right people to get all the right information. It’s crucial to listen before making any decisions, and it’s critical to ensure we have the right external partners and internal team all bought-in to support what we need to achieve. Ultimately, we will become a predictable delivery machine.”

For the last ten years Hyperoptic has been at the forefront of the shift to Gigabit Britain and claims to be the first ISP to trial a 10Gb residential connection. The business was founded by Dana Tobak in 2011 with her business partner, Boris Ivanovic. Before Hyperoptic, they started and managed Be Broadband in 2005/6 prior to its acquisition by O2. Be launched ADSL 2+ in the UK and offered Annex M for an increased upload speed. “But they knew that copper-based technologies would never truly deliver the speeds that people would need in future,” commented Neale. “They could see the huge market opportunity for superior, faster and consistent connectivity and always had a full fibre company in mind for their next venture.

“It seems incredible that back in the Be Broadband days they were frequently asked why anyone would ever need 24Mbps. Look at the market now and how things have moved on. No one ever questions why anyone would need 1Gb services. Instead, with so many devices and great services to use them on, the most frequent question they receive is ‘when are you coming to our area’?”

We are in a race to build – to get there first and finish first and then attract customers onto the network

Historically, the broadband market in the UK was crowded but mainly by suppliers offering the same products and services, according to Neale. “UK consumers were starved for choice,” she added. “And the phrase ‘superfast fibre broadband’ is misleading. In many cases the fibre stops at the cabinet at the end of the street. The actual connection into the home is delivered over copper which means that users rarely get the advertised speeds – and the performance is subject to distance.”

Hyperoptic’s approach is FTTP infrastructure gigabit-capable broadband with average speeds of up to 900Mbps. Its services are delivered via its own dedicated fibre network, which means, says Neale, that customers can always connect to the Internet at the speeds advertised. “HD movies can be downloaded in less than one minute and 4K content can be downloaded in minutes,” she said. “The biggest macro trend is the global, and UK’s, increasing need for fast and reliable connectivity. The infrastructure needs to keep up with demand.”  
Hyperoptic employs over 1,500 staff and turnover for the year ended 31st December 2020 was £51.7 million (2019: £39.2 million), up 32 per cent (2019: 46 per cent). This represents revenue from subscribers in new homes passed as well as an increase in penetration in the existing network. Its services are available across 57 UK towns and cities.

“The objective is to build smart and deliver shareholder value by ensuring we are building out our network where there is strong demand and we can sell services,” explained Neale. “A key challenge the whole market is facing is access to skilled resources, from direct labour to third parties. Fixing this will require lowering the barriers to entry – from both a personnel and technology perspective, and also enabling the roles to be as a flexible as possible.”

Another key part of Neales’ role involves collaborating with the senior team on new innovative tools and techniques that will help fast track the roll out schedules. “Two technologies are currently interesting me,” she said. “The shift to ribbonised fibre: As the fibre is already split it’s helping to speed up our delivery of feeder networks. I’m also impressed with new connectorised technologies. Because it’s basically plug-and-play it requires much less interventions.”

Many successful woman in ICT have met challenges on their career path because of their gender, but Neale didn’t even think about her gender until women in tech became a topic about ten years ago. “I certainly have never felt discriminated against because of my gender,” she said. “In fact, the only challenge I can think of is that there is often a lack of female toilets in telephone exchanges!

“However, I do fully appreciate that I have been lucky. I’ve heard some horror stories from other women in the comms sector and I recognise that I need to represent and be the change I want to see, which means using my voice to help others. That means making our industry attractive and reflective of the populous that we serve, across all groups such as gender, class and neurodiversity.”


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