Imagine planning to spend €300m on broadband service
Sean Bolger's Imagine Communications is planning to spend €300m expanding a fixed wireless broadband network after an initial soft launch of the service around the country exceeded expectations.
Imagine is also planning to make its first forays outside Ireland, and is currently working with partners with a view to deploying so-called LTE (Long Term Evolution) wireless networks in other countries, including some in continental Europe.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Bolger said that Imagine had so far spent tens of millions of euro deploying LTE base stations at about 50 locations in Ireland.
Imagine has been offering a limited trial service since June 2016, and has so far attracted about 20,000 customers, said Mr Bolger. He said there had been expressions of interest from 100,000 more potential subscribers.
In 2014, Imagine secured an initial €50m from an international infrastructure fund to fund its new LTE network. Mr Bolger said he expected the full deployment of the network to cost another €300m, and that funding would be sourced from existing and new investors in the group.
The company's shareholders include NTR and Kilsaran Concrete. A consortium of French backers are also shareholders.
Mr Bolger said Imagine had been at the forefront globally in the development of a national LTE network, and that this expertise would be useful in strategic partnerships with other telecoms operators in other countries.
He said Imagine would make a formal announcement early next year regarding its national LTE plans and that the full network should be established within 18 to 24 months.
"The investment we'll be making in the product will be about €300m," said Mr Bolger.
He declined to say whether funding terms had yet been finalised.
Imagine advertises the LTE service as enabling download speeds of about 70MB for customers. However, customers often secure speeds above that. Mr Bolger said that as the network expanded, higher speeds would be made available.
LTE speeds of as fast as one gigabit have already been demonstrated by US telecoms operator Sprint.
Imagine had to wait to initiate its national broadband project until telecoms regulator ComReg announced during the summer the outcome of a new round of spectrum awards.
Imagine won a bid to use the 60Mhz of frequency in each of the designated rural areas, paving the way for it to roll out its LTE network.
Mr Bolger said wireless broadband provided a "technology shift" that enabled such services to be deployed in rural areas most cost-effectively and faster than fibre to homes.
"The Irish deployment has been extremely successful," he said. "We're one of the first companies to do it and now it's becoming mainstream."
Mr Bolger said Imagine wouldn't be affected by the roll-out of the Government's National Broadband Plan, as the NBP only makes subsidies available for broadband deployment in areas where it is not commercially viable to do so. LTE technology means that it becomes commercially viable to make broadband services commercially available in many rural areas.
In 2016, Imagine settled a long-running €138m legal case with international telecoms giant Motorola.
Imagine sued Motorola in 2010 alleging breach of contract and negligence arising from the roll-out of a WiMax network. Motorola had counter-sued Imagine and denied Imagine's claims.
Imagine claimed that the delay in the roll-out of the WiMax network resulted in the Irish company shouldering financial problems and losses. The companies settled out of court.