Fibrus 'set to pip Openreach to win £165m fibre contract'

The Fibrus senior management team at the launch of its investment and roll out in Dundrum last year
Gary McDonald Business Editor

INDUSTRY newcomer Fibrus is set to be awarded a lucrative government contract, ahead of telecoms giant BT’s infrastructural arm Openreach, to roll out full fibre broadband across Northern Ireland.

The Irish News understands that Fibrus, formed just two years ago, will be unveiled by the NI Executive as the preferred bidder for Project Stratum, the £165 million project to deliver superfast broadband to 80,000 rural homes in the north over the next five years.

Fibrus and Openreach were the last two runners for the project following the withdrawal from the process earlier this year of US private investment firm Granahan McCourt Capital.

Neither of the two companies would comment on the likely outcome of the process.

A spokesman for the Department for the Economy said: “We cannot respond to speculation regarding our intent to award a contract for Project Stratum.”

But sources have confirmed to the Irish News that the contract - and with it the bulk of the multi-million pound state aid - will go to Fibrus.

That may be seen as a potential gamble by the government on opting for a largely untried start-up versus a long-established player in the sector.

Fibrus was established in September 2018 following a joint venture between telecoms entrepreneur Dominic Kearns of technology group b4b and former Enet chief executive Conal Henry.

Its initial remit was to improve connectivity in suburban and semi-rural towns currently suffering with low average broadband speeds.

In May, Fibrus was acquired by Infracapital, the infrastructure equity investment arm of M&G Plc (it has £350 billion under its management), which will give it the financial clout to scale up quickly.

It plans to invest another £100 million in proving fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) to around 145,000 premises across the north by 2024, and then further upgraded its ambitions by committing to help ensure every single home can access such services by the end of 2025.

Fibrus has already hired more than 40 new recruits since January and is continuing to recruit at a rate of at least 10 staff a month.

The company, whose full fibre broadband offer is now available in Dundrum, Castlewellan, Newcastle, Ballynahinch and Killyleagh, said it plans to invest £21 million in infrastructure over the next year.

Openreach, which builds and maintains the largest fixed communications network in the north, hit the 360,000 premises milestone for its FTTP build programme, and set a target to be in 525,000 premises by next March.

The BT offshoot was widely expected to be given Project Stratum approval, but it looks like it will be disappointed when a formal announcement is made next month.

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