Imagine closes in on $180m deal for broadband rollout

Telecoms firm using wireless technology to provide internet to rural areas

Telecoms business Imagine is closing in on a large financing deal to help build out its wireless broadband network.

The company has been talking to a number of parties and a North American infrastructure fund has emerged as a frontrunner in the process, the Sunday Independent understands. The fund is prepared to inject in the region of $160m-$180m (€129-€145m) into Imagine in a combined debt/equity package. Imagine would also be able to draw on its own financial firepower for the project.

That includes the proceeds derived from settling a legal dispute with Motorola over a previous broadband project.

Imagine – run by executive chairman Sean Bolger – has been working on a so-called Long Term Evolution (LTE) broadband network. Bolger did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The LTE network connects areas to the internet via wireless technology – often placed on phone masts – rather than fixed-line copper cables and is seen as useful for remote areas. Speaking to the ‘Irish Independent’ in November, Bolger said the company had been offering a limited trial service that had attracted around 20,000 customers. He said the company had received expressions of interest from around 100,000 further potential subscribers. Delays in the Government’s National Broadband Plan are likely to benefit Imagine which says on its website that it wants to build LTE “where people need it most”.

The longer the National Broadband Plan takes to come to fruition, the greater the chance Imagine will have to steal a march on rivals. Bolger said in November that he aimed to have the full network established in 18-24 months. He said the initial deployment had been “extremely successful.” “We’re one of the first companies to do it and now it’s becoming mainstream.”

Imagine was one of the parties that successfully bought access to the upcoming 5G spectrum, expected to be launched in Ireland in 2021 at the earliest. 5G is a faster type of wireless internet.

In 2016 Imagine sold its retail business division to Magnet Networks, saying its focus was to “deliver fibre-based next-gen services to regional and rural communities across Ireland.”

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Credit Irish Independent