Wifi group aims to fill rural broadband vacuum

FleetConnect uses mobile phone network to provide premises with a better signal

FleetConnect, the firm that operates wifi on buses and trains across the State, plans to capitalise on the Government’s faltering broadband process by offering a new mobile broadband product to rural households and businesses.

The company has already signed up about 3,000 customers to its rural wifi business and chief executive Patrick Cotter believes he can extend this to 50,000 customers in a short space of time because the demand is so great.

He described rural broadband in the Republic as a joke and said he was willing to put his company’s reputation on the line with the new venture, which offers 24-hour delivery and an easy-to-install format.

The company uses the mobile phone network to provide households and businesses with a better signal.


Its pre-configured routers and booster antennas claim to offer double the broadband speeds and signal strength in remote and/or badly serviced areas.

“We have customers who were getting one megabit per second with fixed line and can now hook up their smart TV and Xbox without any problems,” Mr Cotter said.

The company offers a full refund within 30 days if its product fails to boost the customer’s broadband.

Phones ‘hopping’

With fresh doubts hanging over the Government’s National Broadband Plan following the recent departure of Scottish energy giant SSE, Mr Cotter believes there is an opportunity for the company to expand into many of the areas covered by the plan.

“We know what we’re doing. We have enough people. Our phones are hopping and we could reach 50,000 customers in these areas quite quickly,” he said.

About 540,000 households in rural Ireland, roughly a quarter of the State's housing stock, have been promised top-quality broadband under the National Broadband Plan.

However, several years after the scheme was first announced, it has still to commence and the tender process remains mired in difficulties following the high-profile exits of Eir and Vodafone-ESB joint venture Siro, which were initially favourites to win the tender.

Dublin-based FleetConnect operates the State's largest rail and bus wifi network, with Irish Rail, Dublin Bus and AirCoach among its clients.

The company employs 35 staff and generates an annual turnover of more than €1 million. Mr Cotter came up with the idea of starting his own wifi company when his dongle did not work on a train from Dublin to Cork.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times