Tuesday 24 October 2017

Eircom wins race to become first Irish operator with 4G network

Vodafone secures funding to expand its grid

Herb Hribar: 4G launch
Herb Hribar: 4G launch

Colm Kelpie and  Adrian Weckler

EIRCOM launched a 4G mobile network in Ireland yesterday as rival Vodafone secured a European loan to fund its Irish 4G buildout.

Eircom has become the first Irish operator to launch a 4G mobile network, giving smartphone, tablet and laptop users broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than what existing mobile services offer.

The company has launched the network for Meteor and eMobile users in Dublin, Carlow and Athlone. Cork, Limerick and Galway are set to follow by the end of the year. Altogether, almost half the country's population will have access to the service by the end of December, with the company pledging to increase coverage to 70pc within three years.

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that Vodafone Ireland, which had been tipped to launch a 4G service this month, has been approved for a €117m loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to strengthen its 3G and 4G mobile networks.

The Luxembourg-based lender has said that the money has been approved but the final sign-off between the telecoms giant and the bank to allow for the money to be disbursed hasn't yet happened.

The EIB only finances up to half the cost of a project, with the total cost of the Vodafone Ireland scheme recorded in EIB documents as €246m.

Gigantic

The EIB has also approved a €408m loan for Vodafone mobile UK for a similar project. A spokesman for the EU bank said the two projects are designed to allow Vodafone expand and build up its new telecoms infrastructure, particularly 4G.

In Ireland, Eircom chief executive Herb Hribar said that Eircom had invested €300m in its mobile network, part of a €1.3bn investment currently under way in its wider network. He said that beating Vodafone, O2 and 3 to become the country's first 4G operator was a signal of Eircom's intent in moving away from a catch-up operator. "This is gigantic for us, we can't understate its importance," he said. "We're now leading, not lagging. We've delivered fibre on time and now we're leading the market in delivering next-generation mobile. This gives us credibility, it gives us some of our swagger back."

The EIB has ramped up lending to projects in Ireland in recent years, supporting capital spending on schools and road schemes as well as helping to boost the capacity of banks including AIB to make loans.

"From our side you could say is a company like Vodafone the most needy borrower? It's a big company in its own right," he said.

"What we're trying to support is the roll out of 4G infrastructure to rural areas so that people are not disadvantaged by being in the middle of nowhere.

"We've done similar projects in Sweden, Austria, Italy and others. The telecoms sector is something we recognise the benefit of, recognise the importance of investing upfront and see the benefits that can come from that and it isn't just commercially but it is to help rural areas."

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