Monday 24 October 2016

Top telecoms execs back new broadband venture

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Danuta Gray
Danuta Gray

Two former Eircom executives, a high-ranking Vodafone veteran, and the previous boss of O2 Ireland, Danuta Gray (pictured), are behind a new company that aims to deliver super-fast broadband to rural areas as part of the Government's National Broadband Plan, the Irish Independent has learned.

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Ronan Kneafsey, who was the head of Eircom's business division until 2014, is among those who have co-founded the new company, Gigabit Fibre.

Danuta Gray headed O2's Irish operation until 2010, when she resigned after nine years in the role. She is also a non-executive director at Paddy Power, and was previously a non-executive director at Aer Lingus and Permanent TSB.

A former senior Vodafone UK executive, Alan Harper, is also involved in Gigabit Fibre. He was the managing director of Vodafone UK and also co-founded Eaton Towers, a company that develops telecoms infrastructure in Africa.

Peter Cook, a UK-based telecoms consultant who brought the team together, told the Irish Independent that Gigabit Fibre would deliver up to one gigabit fibre internet to rural homes and businesses by digging fibre channels to premises.

He said this has already been done in the UK and Sweden, for instance, and is now a cost-competitive way of delivering fibre. Mr Cook's consultancy firm previously worked with Eircom under its former chief executive, Paul Donovan.

Mr Cook said Gigabit Fibre's aim is to be the primary provider in intervention areas under the NDP. It plans to operate as a wholesaler, offering capacity on its fibre to any retailer who wants to re-sell it.

"We wouldn't be doing it if we didn't fancy our chances," he said.

He added that rolling out the fibre network would cost hundreds of millions of euro and that advanced funding talks have taken place with the likes of private equity and pension funds.

Other directors of the new Irish firm include Dublin-based telecoms consultant David Stone.

He previously worked with telecoms watchdog Comreg, and subsequently with Eircom, between 2007 and 2013. He was a lead advisor on the telco's bid for the first National Broadband Plan. The plan was developed by the Government to deliver high-speed broadband services to every home and business in Ireland.

While much of that is being achieved through significant independent investment made by companies such as UPC and Eir, a vast swathe of rural Ireland has still not benefited from high-speed services.

A public consultation by the Department of Communications - due to be completed this month - is underway about how the Government proposes to deliver high-speed broadband by 2020 to areas where it is uneconomical for the commercial sector to invest.

Gigabit Fibre will be among the firms pitching to secure a contract under those plans. The Government will start the procurement process by the end of the year.

Gigabit's directors also include Christer Karlsson. He was previously involved in a UK company called Gigaclear, which provides fast broadband to rural communities in Britain.

Irish Independent

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