The Cignal investment represents the biggest roll-out of new towers in the last 10 years and adds to the complexity of National Broadband Plan debate.
Telecoms infrastructure player Cignal has revealed plans to invest €25m in 300 locations over the next two years to address coverage blackspots in rural Ireland.
In what is considered the biggest roll-out of new towers in the last decade, this investment will be of benefit to mobile operators as well as wireless internet service providers (WISPs).
‘We are currently active in every county in Ireland with new sites coming online every month’
– COLIN CUNNINGHAM
As the National Broadband Plan flounders, significant moves are afoot. In recent days, Siliconrepublic.com reported how Eir is planning to invest €1bn in a fibre-to-the-home and 4G/5G network upgrade that will see 99pc geographic 4G coverage. In addition, local WISPs are making inroads, even bringing broadband to Kerry’s Black Valley.
Cignal entered the telecoms fray in Ireland when it acquired 300 towers from Coillte in 2015. Since then it has spent €15m on additional acquisitions and organic expansion to add a further 150 sites. Cignal recently agreed a refinancing and expansion of its banking facilities with Bank of Ireland and AIB. The €65m credit facility will help provide the funding for the capital investment programme announced today (15 November).
Cignal’s investment programme has been supported by its majority shareholder Infravia Capital Partners, a specialist infrastructure investor managing over €4bn in assets.
Battling the blackspots
“This infrastructure provides the platform from which operators can deliver high-speed broadband and mobile services to their consumers,” explained Cignal CEO Colin Cunningham.
“Through our strategy of hosting equipment for multiple operators on each tower, they can provide a much more cost-efficient service. With offices based in Galway and Dublin we are currently active in every county in Ireland with new sites coming online every month.’’
Cignal currently has a portfolio of over 450 towers, representing almost 20pc of the Irish market for infrastructure supporting mobile, fixed wireless broadband communications and broadcast services.
The planned investment will cover every county with sites constructed on ‘build to suit’ contracts and leased back to mobile phone and wireless broadband operators.
Cignal said that this initiative will address the objectives of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce established by the Government in 2016 to identify solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits across the country.
The Taskforce has led to a broadband officer being appointed in every local authority, helping to improve the level of engagement with telecoms operators and infrastructure providers to clear obstacles in the roll-out of network investments.
“The investment by industry of €2.75bn over the last five years in upgrading networks and services, and the new investment of €25m by Cignal in tower infrastructure will further contribute to the elimination of blackspots, widen the availability of 5G wireless broadband technology, and marks a step closer to the delivery of reliable, high-quality services to every corner of the country,” commented Minister of State for Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Digital Development Sean Canney, TD. “I look forward to hearing of continued investment by others in this exciting time for the sector.”
Speeds of greater than 150Mbps are now possible through mobile and fixed wireless broadband solutions, compared to 20Mbps five years ago. This means video streaming, social media, HD movie downloads and other bandwidth-hungry applications can be supported without lengthy buffering or loss of connection.
A recent new tower built in Longwood GAA club, Co Meath, has provided a massive boost to the mobile coverage in the area. Additional operator services are due to be rolled out over the coming weeks which will further enhance the services being offered for both mobile and fixed wireless broadband service to the area.
“As a result of the agreement we conducted with Cignal, the club has funds available to invest in upgrading its facilities,” said Longwood GAA chair Amanda Dixon. “The club found Cignal very straightforward to deal with during the whole process, and the feedback from club members is that they have noticed a significant improvement in mobile phone coverage in the area.”