Fibrus Networks targets northern England in major expansion

Firm founded by Conal Henry to roll out fibre broadband to an initial 300,000 premises

Fibrus Networks chairman and founder Conal Henry: ‘Fibrus has shown in Northern Ireland that we can take on the rural network monopoly and win.’

Fibrus Networks chairman and founder Conal Henry: ‘Fibrus has shown in Northern Ireland that we can take on the rural network monopoly and win.’

 

Fibrus Networks, a company founded by Conal Henry, who previously led State-backed telco Enet, is to double its investment programme from a current £300 million (€351 million) as it enters the market in Britain.

The Belfast-based company, which was last year awarded the £165 million (€193 million) Project Stratum contract to roll out fibre broadband in rural areas in Northern Ireland ahead of BT, is targeting an initial 300,000 premises in over 100 regional towns across Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire over the next three years.

The broadband provider, which last month was also awarded a £23 million (€27 million) government contract to improve digital infrastructure in public sector buildings across the North, is already on the ground, building out its network in the town of Penrith.

“What we spotted in Northern Ireland was the same sort of opportunity presented by the National Broadband Plan in the South to roll out the technology to rural areas with government support. We’re already well into executing that and are about 45,000 homes into that,” he told The Irish Times.

“Fibrus has shown in Northern Ireland that we can take on the rural network monopoly and win, so we plan to do exactly the same thing in the north of England, ” Mr Henry added.

The telco veteran, who is also chairman of the UK’s state-backed £500 million (€586 million) National Digital Infrastructure Fund, was commercial director of Ryanair in the early 2000s. He said he sees parallels between what the carrier was doing in terms of disrupting the airline sector with what Fibrus is doing in terms of fibre broadband.

‘Bigger than BT’

“A lot of the investment is focused in the southeast, so in the north of England and in Scotland they are somewhat starved when it comes to broadband. So we’re happy to be seen by rivals as minnows because I remember that Ryanair was also perceived similarly for a time. It was only belatedly that the competition realised it were no longer a niche player and by that stage it was well on its way,” he said.

“Twenty years ago nobody thought Ryanair would be bigger than Aer Lingus or BA and I think 20 years from now it will be an alternative operator like ourselves who will be bigger than Eir or BT. So it is an exciting opportunity. Clearly we could screw it all up but at the moment we’re executing well and have a solid plan in place.”

Fibrus was founded by Mr Henry and Dominic Kearns with the financial backing of infrastructure investor Infracapital in September 2018. Mr Henry previously led Enet, the company that has the contract to run the Irish State’s Metropolitan Area Networks, a series of telecommunications networks built around 94 towns.

Prior to his stepping down from the role with Enet, he led the company to a deal that saw 78 per cent of the telco acquired by the State-backed Irish Infrastructure Fund (IIF) in a deal valued at between €150 million and €200 million. He also put the company in pole position to win the Government’s multimillion euro national broadband tender after Eir and the ESB-Vodafone joint venture Siro withdrew from the competition.

Enet, was subsequently downgraded to the role of supplier with the €3 billion contract being awarded to National Broadband Ireland, a consortium led by Granahan McCourt.

Mr Henry said Fibrus has no plans to expand its services to the Republic in the immediate future.