A new open access fibre optic network operator called Fibrus has today been jointly established by b4b and entrepreneur Conal Henry in Northern Ireland. The operator plans to invest £100m+ over the next 5 years on improving business and residential connectivity, such as via a new Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
The most recent data from Ofcom estimates that only around 88% of premises in Northern Ireland can currently access a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps) network and this falls to 38% (295,000 premises) for those able to access a 300Mbps capable ultrafast connection or just 8% (63,200 premises) for those within reach of a “full fibre” (FTTP / FTTH) style network.
At present nearly all of the above fixed line connectivity comes from Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media, which leaves N.Ireland as one of the weakest UK markets for alternative network providers. But back in May 2018 we reported that the Belfast-based ISP B4B Networks was looking to change all that by building their own “full fibre” network to reach homes and businesses (here).
Our original report noted that they had identified projects in Belfast as well as Northern Ireland provincial towns. In addition to this, as part of the new Government’s Gigabit Voucher Scheme, the operator also hinted that they were working on identifying projects in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, Bristol, Bath, and North East Somerset, Coventry, Warwickshire, West Yorkshire and West Sussex.
However B4B later clarified to ISPreview.co.uk that they had no plans to do FTTH in the “short term” and were instead currently focused on delivering FTTP for businesses. Nevertheless today’s announcement of a new Joint Venture between b4b and entrepreneur Conal Henry, which has resulted in the creation of new operator Fibrus, brings some much needed confirmation.
N.Ireland’s New Alternative Network
The new venture, which will incorporate b4b’s existing network, is said to be already developing fibre network services to 4,500 businesses and “seeks to solve the lack of fibre and the lack of competition that is strangling Northern Ireland’s telecom market“. Fibrus will develop and operate fibre networks on a purely wholesale open access basis, which they say will create choice for ISPs and competition for NI consumers.
As part of that the new company has pledged to invest more than £100 million over the next 5 years, which will go toward the following projects.
• Fibrus to the Business Park – already underway this initiative will see Fibrus directly connect 4,500 business in 40 business parks and high streets around the province to full fibre networks
• Metro Fibrus – Working with local authorities around the province to Fibrus will aim to develop full open access MANs (Metro Area Networks) that have proven transformational in attracting economic development to towns and cities.
• Fibrus to the Home – targeting those homes with poor copper services, Fibrus aims to work with local, regional and national government to find ways to get every home in the province connected to full open access fibre.
Fibrus does have a website (linked in the first paragraph), although at the time of writing it’s just a holding page but more information should be up later today or this week.
Dominic Kearns, CEO of b4b group, told ISPreview.co.uk:
“As a telecoms provider in Northern Ireland we see first-hand the importance of world class communications infrastructure. We are also very frustrated by lack of full fibre investment by BT in the province’s infrastructure so we decided to do something about it. I am delighted to join forces with Conal to launch Fibrus and with experience in building and operating fibre networks we believe we can shake up Northern Ireland’s communications landscape.”
Conal Henry said:
“High quality communications infrastructure is the cornerstone of economic development in the 21st century and it is too important to be left to former monopolists invested in copper. My experience is in disrupting those monopolies by developing high quality open access fibre networks in every town and village like I oversaw in the south of Ireland. We are already in discussions with service providers, public sector entities, infrastructure owners and investors and we are excited about the opportunity.”
The money being put down for this represents a serious investment by b4b, which clearly has both the experience and resources to support it. Similarly Conal Henry is a Belfast born entrepreneur and one who recently led telecoms company enet, which played a key role in Ireland’s National Broadband Plan and was recently acquired by the Ireland Infrastructure Fund in a €200m deal.
Today’s announcement should also be taken within the context of N.Ireland’s proposed plan to investment £150m on the expansion of “full fibre” services into rural areas (here), which will no doubt be something that Fibrus has their eye on. The operator will of course face competition from the established giants but they appear well positioned to do battle. One to watch, but as usual the proof will be in the construction.