THE Exchequer has got a €1bn Christmas windfall after telecoms companies forked out to be allowed provide super-fast mobile services in Ireland.
Four operators - Vodafone, O2, Hutchison 3G and Eircom's Meteor - paid a total of €854m following an auction for the rights to use wireless spectrum that will enable them to provide fast 4G services starting next year.
The companies will pay €481m upfront to the Exchequer before Christmas. They'll pay the remaining €373m in annual payments between 2013 and 2030.
Alex Chisholm, the chairman of telecoms watchdog Comreg that held the auction, said the amount of money paid by the four operators for the 4G licences "compared favourably" to the results achieved for similar auctions elsewhere in the world.
The result will also come as a relief to the cash-strapped government, especially as it gears up to announce the budget next month.
The Department of Finance had pencilled in the receipt this year of just €170m from the auction of the 4G licences.
"The proceeds of the auction are greater than many people expected and are a statement of confidence in the economy,” said communications minister Pat Rabbitte. The total licence payments of €845m are front-loaded so over 50pc of the money will go to the exchequer this year. The balance will be paid over by telecoms companies on a phased basis over the coming years.”
O2 owner Telefonica said it plans to start rolling out its 4G network in the first half of 2013 and will spend about €200m on the infrastructure upgrade.