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Imagine targets further rural broadband rollout with €45m in Dutch bank cash

The fixed wireless operator, which is eyeing 60 new 5G masts around the country, now has 40,000 rural customers with 55,000 additional ‘applications’.

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Imagine Communications CEO Sean Bolger announces that the company is accelerating the roll out of next generation broadband to rural Ireland.

Imagine Communications CEO Sean Bolger announces that the company is accelerating the roll out of next generation broadband to rural Ireland.

Imagine Communications CEO Sean Bolger announces that the company is accelerating the roll out of next generation broadband to rural Ireland.

Imagine Communications has agreed a €45m banking facility with Dutch banks ING and NIBC to further roll out its wireless broadband in rural areas.

Founder and CEO Sean Bolger said that Canadian investor Brookfield Asset Management remains in place as its key investor.

He said that the additional cash facility will “accelerate” the company’s broadband rollout ability. Imagine has over 40,000 connected customers with an additional 55,000 having “applied” to get the service when it reaches their area, he said.

Imagine provides fixed wireless broadband primarily to homes not currently served by high speed broadband providers. By the end of June, the company’s service will be within reach of 1.1m homes and businesses, said Mr Bolger. This will include 65pc of the 540,000 homes listed in the National Broadband Plan’s intervention area, according to the company.

Mr Bolger declined to say how much the company has spent so far in rolling out the network’s planned €300m investment. Recently published accounts show that the wireless broadband firm had turnover of €20.1m in 2019. But despite a gross profit on normal activities of €9.6m, it recorded a total financial loss of €25.7m for the year, up from €13m in 2018.

However, since then the company has significantly increased the size of its network and its customer base.

It now has 268 mast locations across 26 counties, with a further 60 masts to be deployed in its next rollout phase. Each mast location is designed to connect homes with wireless broadband up to 20km away. It is currently putting up 15 masts in Cavan, Clare, Cork, Carlow, Galway, Meath, Offaly, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo and Wexford.

Mr Bolger said that the company is confident it will keep customers in the National Broadband Plan intervention area when the state-funded fibre service is rolled out within the next three years. He said the 500Mbs being offered by operators that use the National Broadband Plan network would not pose a threat to Imagine’s offering.

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“At the moment, you don’t need any more than 150Mbs, which is what we offer,” he said. “In any case, we can go to 300Mbs and we’ll probably get to 600Mbs by the end of this year. Wireless and 5G is part of the infrastructural development of most countries. It’s a future technology.”

He also said that mobile networks’ 5G offerings and Elon Musk’s Starlink service were unlikely to prove major competitive threats.

“You just can’t deliver the same reliability on mobile,” he said. “What people are looking for is speed, capacity and latency. We’ve proven that we can deliver the equivalent to fibre and cable broadband. But it doesn’t work to the same standard on mobile or satellite.”

Commenting on the banks’ €45m funding facility to Imagine, Jeroen Kleinjan, global lead for telecoms at ING and Mark Shenton, head of infrastructure and renewables NIBC said in a joint statement: “ING and NIBC have been long active in supporting the expansion of broadband in Europe, which is essentially future-proofing countries’ transition into digital societies. We especially recognise the strategic importance of high speed broadband in underserved regions and communities, addressing the UN sustainable development goals in terms of providing innovative infrastructure supporting inclusive economic growth. We are therefore proud to continue supporting companies, such as Imagine, in delivering socially meaningful projects of nationwide significance.”


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