Eight companies have been awarded fixed wireless access local area (FWALA) licences by the telecoms regulator ComReg. In total, 38 licences have been issued among the eight mainly regional service providers as part of the latest phase of the scheme, following an evaluation process that involved 128 applicants.
ComReg intends the wireless initiative to be an alternative to broadband access over fixed-line connections such as DSL, TV cable or leased lines, especially but not exclusively in rural areas. The winning licence holders can now provide wireless services to business and consumer markets in 20 areas around Ireland including the border region, the midlands and the south east.
According to ComReg chairman John Doherty, the new scheme is designed to compete on offering local access to fast internet services in areas that might not be well served by other means. “Looking at the map, there are places such as Tullamore, Athlone and Donegal which will have wireless access but that probably won’t be able to get DSL services soon, if at all … in providing 39 licences to eight separate operators we tried to be as creative as we can.”
Although providing wireless access can involve significant investment for companies, Doherty said that with the current licences, costs were more modest, allowing new entrants into the market.
That was in evidence from several as-yet unfamiliar names on the list of successful applicants. The award holders in full are Leap Broadband with four licences; Budget Wireless (four); Digiweb (ten); Real Broadband (two); Irish Broadband (seven); Net2Cell (seven); Mid West Network Solutions (one) and Last Mile Wireless (three).
Under the terms of the award providers must begin offering services within 12 months, but ComReg said it anticipated that the rollout would happen much quicker. There are four channels available for licensing, which means that up to four different providers could use the radio spectrum in the same local area. For example, Dublin alone has four operators: Leap, Irish Broadband, Budget and Net2Cell.
In applying for FWALA licences in the 3.5GHz band, applicants could make voluntary commitments for specific service offerings. For example, a residential service could have at least 512kbps nominal downstream data rate, 128kbps upstream, a maximum 48:1 contention ratio and a 4GB per month minimum inclusive allowance. A typical business service would offer 1Mbps nominal downstream data rate, 256kbps upstream, a maximum 20:1 contention ratio and an unlimited data volume.
Where licensees made these commitments, they are required to offer these services at, or below, the prices specified in their licence bids. Doherty suggested that a monthly DSL price range of around €39.99 for home users and up to €100 per month for businesses would be a useful guide as to likely wireless prices.
Further licences will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis as the scheme moves into its second phase. Based on parts of the country where licences so far have been allocated, there are still regions to be served by providers, Doherty said. “Clearly there are areas like Mayo where we would like to see interested parties become involved. There are other opportunities out there.”
By Gordon Smith
Pictured from left: Ed Diggins of Real Broadand, Colm Piercy of Digiweb and ComReg Commissioner Isolde Goggins