State’s broadband scheme to be delayed

State’s broadband scheme to be delayed by at least a year, Minister signals.

Naughten indicates work on project will not begin until at least beginning of 2019

However, Comreg figures, released this week, show there are only 12,076 households and businesses in the State actually benefiting from a pure fibre connection, known in the trade as a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), which equates to about .006 per cent of households.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has signalled a further delay to the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which was first promised in 2012, by at least a year.
The plan to equip 542,000 rural homes and businesses with high-speed broadband has been beset with problems and delays due to the complexity of the procurement process and the failure of the department to finalise the number of premises to be covered earlier.

In the Dáil last week, Mr Naughten indicated he did not expect the first homes to be connected to the State-subsidised scheme until after Eir, the State’s largest telco, had finished a separate project to connect 300,000 rural homes on a commercial basis, which will take until the end of 2018.

The 300,000 homes had originally been earmarked for the Government’s scheme but were controversially removed at the last minute following an agreement between the department and Eir earlier this year.

The department last night denied the timeline for delivery of its broadband initiative had shifted again, insisting the procurement process would continue in parallel with the rollout of infrastructure by commercial operators.

However, it failed to contradict Mr Naughten’s statement in the Dáil that the 542,000 rural customers would be connected only after Eir had completed its contract with the department.
This pushes delivery of the Government’s plan out by another year to 2019 at a time when rural communities are already struggling to keep pace economically with their urban counterparts.
The scheme is expected to take between three and five years to complete and involve a State subsidy of up to €600 million.

While most premises targeted under the scheme will be equipped with high-speed broadband within the first two years of the contract, many may now have to wait until 2023 or 2024 to see any progress.

Public confidence
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley described the latest delay as a scandal that would further erode the public’s confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver the plan.
“Minister Naughten had the audacity to come into the Dáil to answer questions on the NBP last week and announce that nothing will happen with these households until Eir finishes a project connecting 300,000 other households which they are doing on a commercial basis,” he said.
“For the next 77 weeks, it will be the households that Eir are connecting on a commercial basis that will be prioritised, and not the households that have no hope of ever being connected via a normal commercial connection.

“What’s worse is Minister Naughten’s attempt at jumping on the coat-tails of Eir’s work by claiming it as a phase under the NBP, and referring to the State’s work in connecting the remaining 542,000 households as the next phase.”

Mr Dooley said Mr Naughten’s actions were akin to a minister for transport claiming to provide public transport by letting car dealers sell cars to the public.
“The NBP is beyond a joke now. Every few months, we see the Minister announcing changes to the plan which fundamentally diminishes its impact,” he said.

Read the full story on the Irish Times

fibre reality

Telcos truth about fibre broadband – but not the whole truth

Comreg data shows only 12,076 households benefiting from pure fibre connections

You would be forgiven for thinking half the Irish countryside is wired up with fibre broadband, the gold standard of the industry, given the amount of company announcements we’re subjected to.

However, Comreg figures, released this week, show there are only 12,076 households and businesses in the State actually benefiting from a pure fibre connection, known in the trade as a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), which equates to about .006 per cent of households.

The disparity stems from the fact that telcos tend to conflate “premises passed” by the new fibre technology with those actually connected to it, blurring the lines between FFTPs and fibre-enhanced connections.

In most areas the new technology only runs to the street cabinet, with the last hop – as they call it in the industry – to the house or premises completed via the old copper connection, which can slow broadband speeds considerably, depending on how degraded the original copper is.

All of which is not to say households aren’t benefiting from fibre, just not as much as telcos would have us believe.

Comreg’s report does, however, show that broadband speeds, despite the public outcry, have got significantly faster.

It found that 67 per cent of all fixed-line connections enjoyed speeds equal to or greater than 30 megabits per second, up from 58 per cent in the first quarter of 2016. Telcos Eir, Siro and Enet, which are vying for the Government’s National Broadband Plan, have been busy investing in their networks ahead of the bidding process later this year. The Government’s scheme is expected to deploy predominantly fibre technology to insure against the early obsolescence, a feature of previous State-backed plans.

However, a potential stumbling block may be the final 10 per cent of homes covered by the scheme, which are located in the hardest-to-reach areas because of a legacy of one-off housing and dodgy planning.

Five Winning Bidders in ComReg’s 3.6 GHz Band Spectrum Award

ComReg Media Release

Five Winning Bidders in ComReg’s 3.6 GHz Band Spectrum Award

ComReg has today published the results of its 3.6 GHz spectrum award. The 3.6 GHz band has been identified by the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) as a primary band suitable for the introduction of 5G in Europe.

The Award, which was conducted by auction, resulted in the successful assignment of all 350 MHz of spectrum. The spectrum was offered in 594 lots spread over nine regions (four rural and five urban), assigned on a contiguous basis.

The Auction resulted in five Winning Bidders:

  • Imagine Communications Ireland Ltd, currently the largest Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) obtained spectrum rights of use for 60 MHz in each of the rural regions;
  • Airspan Spectrum Holdings Ltd, a new entrant and the UK arm of a US global provider of 4G broadband wireless systems and solutions. Airspan’s products serve operators and markets such as smart utilities, transportation and public safety in both licensed and licence exempt frequency bands. Airspan obtained 25 MHz in the rural regions and 60 MHz in the cities;
  • Vodafone Ireland Ltd, a mobile network operator with circa 2.3 million mobile subscribers (38.5% market share) and circa 268,00 fixed broadband subscribers (19.7% market share) obtained 85 MHz in rural regions and 105 MHz in the cities;
  • Three Ireland Hutchison Ltd, a mobile network operator with circa 2.08 million mobile subscribers (35% market share) obtained 100 MHz nationally; and
  • Meteor Mobile Communications Ltd, a mobile network operator and a wholly owned subsidiary of Eircom Group which has circa 1.08 million mobile subscribers (18 % market share). Eircom Group has circa 444,000 fixed broadband subscribers (32.6% market share). Meteor obtained 80 MHz in the rural regions and 85 MHz in the cities.

The 3.6 GHz band is currently used for the provision of fixed wireless access services to about twenty five thousand customers, predominantly in rural areas. Imagine Communications Ireland Limited, by far the largest provider of fixed wireless access services in the 3.6 GHz band, holding 80% of the existing licences in the band, has secured sufficient spectrum so as to be in a position to maintain and enhance services.

All spectrum rights of use licences will run for 15 years, expiring on 31 July 2032. Winning bidders will pay in excess of €78m, comprising €60.5m in upfront fees and circa €17.7m in spectrum usage fees to be paid over the 15 year duration of the licences. Full details are set out at Annex 1.

Given the quantum of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band, the EC preferred Time Division Duplex (TDD) channelling arrangement and developments at European level generally, the 3.6 GHz Band could be suitable for addressing mobile capacity constraints, introducing new 5G services, and being a core band for providing and improving fixed wireless broadband services particularly in rural areas.

The release of the 3.6 GHz band has increased the amount of harmonised spectrum for mobile, nomadic and fixed wireless broadband services by 86% and places ComReg at the vanguard of Europe, having awarded 350 MHz of the band in full accordance with the harmonisation Decision, fully ready for any future 5G deployment.

Commenting on the award, ComReg Chairperson Gerry Fahy noted that “the result of the 3.6 GHz award represents a very good outcome for consumers, service providers and ComReg. All 350 MHz of available spectrum, across the entire country, has been assigned at an important time as demand for wireless communications services continues to grow. Continuity for existing services has been underpinned and the possibility of new services has been significantly enhanced. In particular the characteristics of this band, coupled with its 5G potential, should ensure Ireland is well positioned to benefit from new technology and service enhancements in the years to come. The outcome also produced new market entry with the potential for increased investment and innovation thereby enhancing competition and customer outcomes.”

For further information, please see ComReg’s Information Notice 17/38 published alongside this Media Release.

Eir broadband deal leaves rural customers facing rollout lottery

Did the government achieve a major milestone in rural broadband rollout this week? Or has it caved to pressure from Eir, putting the wider project at risk?

There are considered views on both sides of the argument.

For those who missed it, the Government agreed a ‘contract’ with Eir to remove 300,000 rural homes and businesses from the list of 840,000 targeted for the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan. Instead of getting broadband from the State-subsidised process, these 300,000 homes are now to get it on a normal commercial basis. The agreement between the Government and Eir requires Eir to have this completed by the end of next year. If it isn’t, the government says that it reserves the right to re-enter the districts concerned into the National Broadband Plan footprint and make Eir pay any costs.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten is presenting this as a milestone reached in its wider rural broadband goal. Some critics, though, are sceptical of Eir’s ability to deliver such an ambitious target, citing the company’s mixed record to date.

The big unanswered question, though, is what this means for the remaining 540,000 rural homes and business left in the National Broadband Plan map. What is the timetable for that rollout? When will construction on the network begin? Is there a date by which the Government hopes to award a contract for it?

Unfortunately, the Minister now has no answer for these basic questions. The Eir deal may have skewed the whole process.

Mr Naughten’s problem is that taking 300,000 homes out of the intervention area footprint leaves bidders for the scheme with the more difficult, harder-to-reach rump of 540,000 homes. That means they’re a lot less attractive to bid for, even if there is a subsidy involved. And that means that the Government may face further delays in teeing up the tender contract as the three bidders (Eir, Siro and eNet) reassess how they would go about connecting these premises, the cost and complexity.

Indeed, this is exactly what they are now saying.

“We will now take time to review whether this changed scope impacts the viability of Siro’s participation,” said a spokesman for Siro, the joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone which is one of two rival short-listed bidders.

Mr Naughten believes that Siro and eNet will stay in the bidding race and he is probably right. But to keep them involved, the Government may now have to increase the effective subsidy on offer for each rural home. This may even result in a larger overall taxpayer bill than serving a greater number of homes, as bidders may have been willing to risk more themselves for access to scale.

It looks increasingly unlikely that a winning bidder will now be announced this year. That would mean construction is delayed until next year and connections put off until late 2018.

So it looks like we’re in for another bout of delays and another wave of disillusionment.

It is, of course, possible that the Government didn’t have much of a choice but to do its deal with Eir. If the telecoms company really was about to start building its broadband rollout into a third of the Government’s stated intervention area, the Government would risk breaking EU state aid rules. That could have halted the entire initiative which, ironically, would not have hurt Eir anywhere near as much as other telecoms firms or the Government’s credibility.

To be fair, this deal with Eir may indeed mean that there are 300,000 rural homes which will now get broadband on an accelerated time frame. Indeed, a cynic might pick Eir over the Government’s rollout timetable at this point.

One of the criticisms of the contract the Government has signed with Eir is that it has been taken on by an entity with a poor track record of delivery. While there is some justification for that view, the company can be fairly said to have responded to market and industry pressure in rolling out a much larger broadband network now than its fiercest critics would have allowed for, and most evidence points to it being somewhat serious about rolling out fibre, too. It is undoubtedly true that much of its motivation for doing so has been drawn by a combination of initiatives from UPC (now Virgin Media), Siro (Vodafone and the ESB) and Government intervention plans. But it does now have a genuine broadband footprint, even if a large portion still falls short of fibre-era standards. In this context, it may be unduly harsh to charge that the Government has been sold a bag of magic beans.

One can’t blame Minister Naughten for spinning the Eir announcement of 300,000 homes as a sort of adjunct to the National Broadband Plan. In a fog of delays and ongoing contract “complications”, it’s a sizeable chunk of rural Ireland that otherwise might have been mired for years waiting for a tender to be issued.

But it’s the remainder of the homes and businesses to be connected – 540,000 of them – that now face an even more uncertain future.

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Independent

Vodafone admits and apologises for overcharging Irish customers

Vodafone has admitted that the company has overcharged a number of customers in Ireland.

“We are aware of an issue with duplicate credit and debit card payments for some customers caused by a processing error. Customers will be fully refunded over the next few days,” Vodafone said in a statement.

“All impacted customers will also receive an SMS with confirmation of their refund. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The company has had issues with overcharging in the past: in 2015, the telecom giant was fined €10,000 at Dublin District Court for charging customers too much.

In October of last year, UK regulator Ofcom fined Vodafone a record £4.6m (€5.5m) “for serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules”.

Vodafone said that under 4pc of its Irish bill pay customers have been overcharged.

The company has around 2.3 million Irish customers across its mobile, broadband and TV offerings.

However, Vodafone said it could not specifically comment on the number of counts that had been affected for “commercial reasons”. The company said the overcharging was identified over one monthly billing period and that the money would be repaid in the coming days.

Irish Independent

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Independent

Don’t tell farmers to apply online when they have no broadband coverage

Don’t tell farmers to apply online when they have no broadband coverage – Martin Kenny TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Martin Kenny TD, speaking after the Government announced that Eir would expand broadband service to the easy to reach properties, said that the Department of Agriculture would want to take note, before asking farmers from his constituency to make Basic Payment Scheme applications online.

Deputy Kenny said, “Any expansion of broadband services in Ireland has to be welcome, but allowing cherry-picking by providers, so that they can ignore areas which are not commercially profitable, means that large sections of the West are left without proper broadband coverage.

“The announcement of the roll-out of broadband has been nearly a monthly occurrence for the past few years, but it is still not happening for many rural areas. This is another example of Government lack of understanding of the reality of people’s lives. One Department is allowing commercial interests to dictate who gets broadband while another Department is demanding online applications.

“More and more functions are moving online. I hope the Department of Agriculture is taking note of the situation in this part of the world before asking farmers to apply online for their Basic Payment Scheme.

“Rural areas of Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, and Donegal have the lowest level of broadband in the country and are quickly being left behind. The fear is that this is a long term issue as the Government has shown no political will, despite lots of lip service, to redress the imbalance between the urban and rural.”

 Catch the full article here on the Leitrim Observer

Enforced digital detox turns rural dream into nightmare

Lack of landline or internet connections and ‘apathetic’ Eir ruin move to new Offaly home

After years of renting, saving and dreaming, my partner and I finally moved into our dream home with our two children on St Patrick’s Day.

We were finally free of the rental trap, our kids could play out in the garden without fear of passing cars and there would be space to grow vegetables and tend to a garden.

The house is a one-off new build. It is located around six kilometres from the centre of Tullamore and about 3km from the house we previously rented on the outskirts of the Co Offaly town. Although close to the town, it is located down a boreen off the main road and is free from both light and noise pollution.

All of this seemed idyllic to me and in my naivety I did not anticipate any major difficulties. This was before I had the misfortune of dealing with Eir. They were contacted prior to the move for a landline and internet connection but on inspection their engineer said a pole was needed so we cancelled the order and made a fresh request. Eir had supplied eFibre to the old house and credit where credit is due, the service was perfect, too good perhaps.

Even though the new house is near our old address we may as well be in a different galaxy. On two occasions Eir couldn’t find the house and they even cited data protection as the reason they couldn’t ask locally for directions (so much for your Eircode Alex White), presumably because God forbid someone might discover we wanted a phoneline.

When their engineer eventually arrived, it was the same man from before with the same message – we need a pole and there must be a pole request. This was infuriating as we had informed Eir of this on countless occasions. When informed that my livelihood was on the line, the engineer was sympathetic and said he would contact his manager, outline the urgency of the case and put in a pole request. Eir say we might now have a line at the end of April.

Modern-day retreat

Eir cannot be held responsible for the location’s mobile phone signal. It is almost non-existent on both major networks. I imagine years from now there will be people seeking out the exact conditions that prevail at my new home. It is a digital-free oasis impervious it would appear, even to radio waves. The enforced digital detox might actually one day become a viable business model, a modern-day retreat, impenetrable to potentially harmful radiation from the modern world outside – if only there was a way of letting people know about it.

After the move the full implications of digital-free living became all too apparent as my income dried up. Even my radio conspired against me in a fiendish way. It permits radio stations to be tuned in but the moment you walk away from the device the signal dies.

As a freelance reporter it is difficult to think of a more challenging environment to operate from. In the past I have had days of frantically driving up and down country roads in search of a mobile signal all the while knowing that there was an irate editor waiting impatiently in some far away newsroom. That is challenging but at least mobility offered the prospect of a solution.

The sheer frustration of dealing with Eir is something entirely different. The irony of trying to force customers to communicate through online chats appears lost on the company. The apathetic call-takers on Eir’s community forum seem incapable of grasping the reality of someone having no mobile phone coverage.

Recently I acquired an internet dongle from Vodafone. The service works intermittently. I am informed that should I get landline broadband I could get a device that would boost the mobile phone signal in the house. At the moment one windowsill offers two bars of 3G phone reception. My phone is in constant need of charging as it is exhausting itself trying to find a signal. It has also developed a worrying habit of falling from the windowsill when the odd call does come through.

I am acutely aware that my problems fall squarely into the first-world category. I know citizens are being massacred in Syria, children are dying of starvation in Yemen and there is a very real homelessness crisis here in Ireland. I know too that many people feel that if you choose to live in the countryside then you should accept the consequences.

Incapable

While I take this on board, I wonder what hope have the people of rural Ireland in starting up any business in this digital age. As for Eir acquiring 300,000 new rural broadband contracts at the behest of the Minister for Communications, frankly I despair. They seem incapable of dealing with the customers they have.

Having been told by Eir that I could now expect to wait a further three weeks for a landline or internet connection, I drove to my old address and in a state of complete exasperation and frustration emailed both the Denis Naughten and the chief executive of Eir. A lot of what I said is outlined above, but there was one more point that I believe is probably most relevant. What will I do if my partner or either of my young children require an ambulance or urgent medical attention? As expected neither the Minister nor the chief executive responded.

In jest, I informed the news editor that he could expect this piece in the post. It was only after the phone call ended I remembered what is happening to our rural post office network.

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Times

Wireless pioneer battling the State on national broadband plan

interview: Seán Bolger of Imagine claims the route to rural connectivity is wireless

Remember when telecommunications was just Telecom Éireann: a single entity, running a single infrastructure? Sure, it was bloated and uncompetitive, and yes, the market couldn’t have remained as it was with the advent of mobile and the internet, but are we really better served by the tangled mess of technologies and overlapping infrastructures that now prevail?

Today, the number of firms offering phone and broadband bundles across fixed-line, fixed-wireless and mobile platforms is heading towards 70, and we’re about to introduce another weave to the tapestry in the form of the National Broadband Plan.

In theory, Imagine boss Seán Bolger should view this as an existential threat. His company supplies fixed-wireless broadband to rural Ireland, a technology and customer base that’s likely to be cannibalised by the Government’s scheme.

But Bolger, who has made a career out of fighting monopolies, is unperturbed.

“The reality is, it’s completely impracticable . . . it won’t happen,” he says.

It’s a bold claim given the political clout behind the plan. There are now two Government departments and a task force in charge of overseeing its implementation.

Imagine’s Dublin headquarters, a rather nondescript office space located in a corner of Sandyford Business Centre, doesn’t feel like the staging post for a mass assault on Ireland’s telecommunications market, but the company has a reputation for being understated, despite its outspoken boss.

The bulk of our conversation is taken up with the National Broadband Plan and, as Bolger sees it, the Government’s misguided insistence on a fibre solution.

He says the cost of linking 937,000 homes – the proposed intervention area – to a high-speed, fibre-to-the-home network is prohibitive, and likely to cost way more than the €1 billion estimate currently pencilled in.

The Department of Communications has never specified the technology to be deployed, but Bolger claims it’s implicit. “Politicians have basically told everyone it’s going to be fibre to the home,” he says. Either way, the three shortlisted bidders – Eir, Siro and Enet – are basing their bids around a fibre solution.

With the potential to deliver download speeds of up to one gigabit – 1,000 megabits – per second (Mbps), proponents say fibre will guard against early obsolescence, a feature of former Irish broadband initiatives.

Logistical challenges

However, Bolger insists it will be too difficult to run fibre to households in remote areas without using wireless, principally because of the prevalence of one-off housing units and poor planning. Similar plans have been abandoned in the United States, Australia and Britain for the same logistical reasons.

“The problem with fibre is that it’s extremely expensive and not really viable on a commercial basis outside of densely populated areas,” he says.

But isn’t this just sour grapes? After all, Imagine was one of the two consortiums to be ejected from the process last year. “Our bid did not fail. We were excluded on a technicality,” he says.

The technicality, he claims, relates to its backer, Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, and the fact that the latter’s holding company wasn’t included as a member of the Imagine bid, which also included Australia’s MacQuarie Capital and infrastructural group Black & Veatch.

Bolger won’t elaborate on what he thinks went on behind the scenes, but it’s clear he believes the process was hung up on delivering a fibre solution to the exclusion of all others, including Imagine’s 4G wireless technology, which delivers high-speed internet access via radio signals rather than cables.

A recent survey of Irish broadband speeds by technology monitoring group Ookla, ranked Imagine second ahead of fibre rivals Eir, Vodafone and Sky, with an average speed of 77Mbps, and significantly ahead of the 30Mbps threshold specified in the NBP tender.

“Why we were excluded on a technicality is a matter for the national broadband team, but the result was that two effective competitors with major multinational backer funding were excluded from the process.”

This outcome favours market incumbent Eir, he claims, suggesting the former semi-State has pushed the department towards the most expensive technology option in order to delay the project and/or limit competition.

Eir has been accused of trying to disrupt the Government’s tender by several rivals, an accusation it denies.

“I’m not saying the process stinks. I’m saying we were excluded on a technicality. Do I think that was the right thing to do? No, I don’t. Do I think that’s in the best interest of the country in terms of competition? No, I don’t.”

“What started out as an extremely good plan has effectively been curtailed into a risky plan by the process.”

“The whole idea of the plan is to build a wholesale network, but if the wholesale cost of that network is so high so that it’s prohibitive, you’ll have very little competition, and who will pay for that? The consumer.”

Commercial operators

Either way, Bolger’s believes the plan in its current guise won’t deliver. That’s not to say rural Ireland won’t get high-speed broadband, only that it will be delivered through a combination of fibre to the regions – and, where it is viable, to the home – in combination with wireless technologies from private operators in more remote areas.

To be fair to Bolger, he’s putting his money where his mouth is. The company is spending more than €1 million a month on the national rollout of its 4G long-term evolution (LTE) network.

Currently it has 50 live sites across the State and about 11,500 customers, with approximately 2,500 joining each month. It plans to grow this to 400 sites and 160,000 customers within three years, courtesy of a €300 million war chest stumped up by existing shareholders and new investors, plus cashflow from the business.

The sale of its retail business division, comprising up to 5,500 customers, to rival telco Magnet last year was part of this strategic shift in focus.

“We’re fed up talking about this and people not understanding it, so we decided to just go out and do it.

“In less than five months, we’ve rolled out our technology to nearly 500,000 homes,” Bolger says, noting it has had an additional 87,000 requests from prospective customers registering on the site or via social media.

To accommodate this expansion, the company has hired an additional 100 staff in the past year, bringing its total workforce to 275. It expects staff numbers at its three offices, two in Dublin and one in Cork, to grow to 350 within the next 12 months.

“We’re the first company that has quit the bulls**t, and gone into rural Ireland and delivered,” Bolger says, highlighting the rollout is being done on purely commercial basis.

“We could have reduced the amount of State subsidy required to deliver high-speed broadband in Ireland if the Government had kept us in the NBP process,” he claims. “What we’ve proven is that there’s a global, industry-backed technology that can be used today in Ireland to deliver high-speed broadband on a commercial basis.”

Tenacious

Bolger is nothing if not tenacious, and his sense of injustice over the NBP bidding process seems to have strengthened his resolve to prove the company has a winning formula for the provision of broadband.

The Rathfarnham-born entrepreneur has spent much of his telecoms career in arm wrestles with monopolies and big multinationals. His first serious foray into telecoms arena came in 1993, when he founded ITL, an international calls firm – at the time Telecom Éireann’s first and only competitor.

After merging the business with Norway’s Netsource in 1997, and buying up 15 other firms across Europe, he went on to sell it for $300 million. He bought back the company’s Irish business in 2003, merging it with Imagine, which had been established in 1998.

Bolger fought a legal battle with Eircom’s then mobile arm Eircell over its right to provide competitive mobile services. The High Court found for Imagine on a number of contractual issues, but rejected its contention that there had been a breach of competition law by Eircell.

At the time, Imagine had around 20,000 subscribers: Bolger estimates that Eircell’s actions cost him 80,000 new customers.

Around 2008, seeing the growth in demand for broadband, the company reinvented itself as a fixed-wireless provider, subsequently buying Irish Broadband and Clearwire to boost its infrastructural platform.

However, the company’s new iteration nearly foundered after it fell out with US telecoms giant Motorola, the supplier of its Wimax product.

A six-year legal battle – a record for the Commercial Court – ensued. The Irish company claimed in 2011 in the High Court that Motorola was supposed to have provided 234 base stations for its wireless network by the end of the previous year, but had only installed 125. Imagine said the delay had significantly depleted its capital and forced it to restructure debt.

Bolger says the company went to hell and back in its battle with Motorola, at one stage having to downsize the workforce by 50 per cent.

“What kept us going was a fundamental belief in what’s right and what’s wrong, and we don’t like being bullied.” He also points to the backing of shareholders.

Under wraps

The €134 million lawsuit was only settled last year. Details of the settlement were kept under wraps, but Bolger says the company’s position was vindicated.

“We take on very big projects and by doing that we tend to take on vested interests,” he says.

These days Imagine is 54 per cent owned by Bolger, commercial director Brian O’Donohoe, and the company’s management and staff. Another 30 per cent is held the Balthus consortium of investors and 16 per cent by listed venture capital group DFJ Esprit.

“Everything we do is down to a team of people. Whatever that concept, idea, we look at; it comes down to opportunity, strategy, team and money.”

He says the biggest challenge for Irish entrepreneurs is finance, highlighting the fact that all of Imagine’s fundraising takes place abroad. “Access to funding for entrepreneurs and businesses is nonexistent in the Irish market,” he says.

Bolger was there at the beginning of Ireland’s tech boom and has had a front row seat for the opening up of the telecommunications industry here. He might yet prove a dark horse in the race to bring broadband to rural Ireland.

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Times.
Article By: Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Wireless broadband still rivalling fibre in rural areas

Study of download speeds ranks wireless firm Imagine second to fibre provider Virgin.

Government is likely to insist on use of fibre, which can deliver speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps, in its national broadband plan.  According to a sample survey of Irish broadband speeds by technology monitoring Ookla group, Virgin Media, a fibre broadband provider, was found to be delivering the fastest download speeds, equating to 276 Megabits per second (Mbps). Wireless technology firm Imagine was ranked second ahead of fibre rivals Eir, Vodafone and Sky, with an average speed of 77Mbps.

“The results show that advanced fixed wireless internet, which transmits high-speed internet signals through the air, is a powerful and more effective alternative to fibre-to-the-home broadband in rural Ireland,” Imagine’s commercial director Brian O’Donohoe said.

“ Overall, Imagine is delivering faster speeds to the countryside than providers like Eir are delivering to cities and towns, and without using wires or cables,” he said.

Wireless broadband providers risk being driven out of many parts of the market by the arrival of the Government’s national broadband plan. This is because the three shortlisted bidders for the project – Eir, Siro and E-net – are planning to submit bids based on fibre-to-the-home (FTTH)technologies, considered the gold standard internationally.

Shortcoming

However, the final 5 per cent of homes in rural Ireland, located in the hardest-to-reach areas, may still need to be connected using wireless technologies on cost grounds.

Despite the rollout of the FTTH products – Eir and Siro claim to have passed about 40,000 homes each – the take-up by consumers has been low.

Comreg’s latest broadband penetration data shows only a fraction of homes have actually opted to buy FTTH bundles, despite the clamour for better quality connectivity in rural areas.

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Times.
Article By: Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Broadband Rollout in Rural Areas ‘A PR STUNT’

The roll-out of rural broadband has been a “PR stunt” to date, according to Fianna Fáil Councillor Bob Ryan.

Speaking at a meeting of Cork County Council, Mr Ryan said that broadband providers were only doing the bare minimum and that this was being sold as progress by the Government.

“They are running fibre-optic infrastructure up rural roads so far — maybe two or three hundred metres off the main highways, and going no further.”

“It appears to me very clearly that it is a PR stunt. I’m sure there will be reports from the relevant departments dealing with broadband rollout, and they will be coming out saying they have reached so many thousands of homes in rural Ireland, but it is nothing more than a scam.”

“They are going two or three hundred metres up the road and stopping, and the people living further up the road have no chance of getting rural broadband for a long, long time. The way they are approaching it is unfair, and it is very, very much unworkable,” he said.

Independent councillor John Paul O’Shea said that he had seen similar examples in the north Cork area.

“Eir and a number of other private organisations are investing in broadband, but the fact of the matter is, Cllr Ryan is right. One area in Bweeng, they are going so far up a road, just after one house, but there are five houses further up the road that would be viable for them, but they decide to stop wherever they like.”

“It will be like this until post-2020 when the national broadband plan comes along and subsidises Eir, or whatever organisation might win the contract to do it. This county can’t wait three years for broadband services,” he said.

Fianna Fáil councillor Frank O’Flynn said that the issue was like a “sore boil” that wouldn’t go away.

Catch the full article here on the Evening Echo.