The Northern Ireland Digital Revolution
Fibrus is a new full fibre broadband business which is set to revolutionise the way rural and regional consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland operate online, by investing over £100m in full fibre broadband infrastructure. Ulster Business spoke to co-founder and chief executive Dominic Kearns
It would be an understatement to say that full fibre broadband business Fibrus has hugely ambitious plans to expand its business across Northern Ireland, grow its already burgeoning top end team and showcase the next level of internet connectivity.
Fibrus has grown from a team of four to 40 in four months, with plans to double that by the end of the year, and roll out speeds of up to 10Gbps in towns and villages across Northern Ireland as part of a huge £100m investment.
It is the brainchild of co-founders Conal Henry, former chief executive of Enet, and Dominic Kearns, who also founded and is executive chairman of Belfast based b4b telecoms group.
“We saw that the switch out to full fibre was coming and shouldn’t be left to BT,” Dominic says. “We incorporated at the end of 2018 and spent six months on the road seeking substantial investment. We’ve got that now and have been up-and-running since August 2019.”
He says the Fibrus team could reach 80 this year and add a further 230 indirect jobs. “Our project has attracted some of the best talent in the industry and we already have a team in place that is quite simply second to none – this isn’t your standard start-up,” he says. “The telecoms network in Northern Ireland is mostly a legacy, copper-based network. No one set out 30 or 40 years ago to build a broadband network – they built a phone network.
“These legacy networks won’t support consumer and business demand for high speed full fibre broadband services. What we are doing is building future-proofed broadband networks. We are solely a broadband company and are focused on providing the best services in the market to consumers.”
The difference between full fibre and some other cable and traditional fibre networks, aside from being built from the ground up, is the sheer speed, bandwidth and capacity. Dominic says the network has almost infinite capacity.
“It will be future-proof for 40 or 50 years,” he says. “Our service is an end-to-end fibre cable – based on a recent Ofcom report our service is 17 times faster than the current average download speed in NI, so it is extremely fast compared to existing traditional networks.”
Fibrus has a plan to roll out broadband in many towns and villages across Northern Ireland. That will mean a new network for users, connected directly to a consumer’s home or business.
“Our commercial roll out requires capital expenditure of £85m. That’s a lot of money going into the ground. It’s almost like the re-electrification of the country.
“You won’t need to worry about whether your broadband service is working properly or not. Like other utilities, such as electricity, it just works. People can’t tell you how much electricity supply they get. Why? Because it just works. But people can tell you how fast their broadband speeds are. Why? Because it only works properly half of the time.
“Full fibre will fix that. It’s far more reliable and you can turn it up or down as you please.
“Not only is it important to have fast speeds, it’s important to have fast speeds anywhere in the home. We will work with customers to ensure they can get wi-fi in all parts of their home.
“In terms of business there is a direct correlation between high speed fibre broadband, economic growth and increased productivity within businesses. Full fibre underpins a business’s ability to access information quickly, connect with their customers and partners globally, and drive a digital strategy for their business. It’s all about being reliably connected at speed. Businesses are trying to run more efficient models, including staff working from home – being fully connected can be transformational for business and society.
“We are very keen to get our share of the market. We are very aggressive with our pricing. We are confident that when a customer experiences what full fibre broadband is all about, we will have a customer for life.”
Dominic is also keen to reinforce the team effort behind Fibrus’s plans. “Our marketing plan is ‘local, local, local’. Our staff are ‘fibre champions’ and they will go into a community and educate them. They will be there weeks before any of the work begins – it’s about creating the trust with the consumers and showing them how we are delivering a really good service.”
Part of Fibrus’s strength is going into areas which have poor or next to no significant broadband network.
“A lot of the people we will be serving will be in areas which in the past have been under-supplied – those are the people we will be supporting and the areas we are focusing on.”
Reliability and speed remain key selling points of the new Fibrus network. “Our headline speed is 1Gbps, but our network can deliver up to 10Gbps. In terms of where the market is at, our ‘hyperfast’ 1Gbps tends to be the highlight of the service. Our entry-level package is 100Mbps, and we have our 300Mbps package, which is considered ‘Ultrafast’.”
And Dominic believes another part of the strength of Fibrus is the level of experience right across the workforce, and its senior leadership team.
“I would challenge anyone to find a more decorated team in terms of experience in the industry,” he says. “Our chairman Conal Henry has 16 years in fibre infrastructure and was very successful in that time.”
Conor Harrison, the firm’s chief operating officer, has joined the company from Virgin Media where he held several senior positions in both their Irish and UK operations.
Chief finance officer, Jenny Nuttall was an advisor with BDUK, successfully developing and implementing the ‘value for money’ strategy for the multi-billion-pound superfast broadband programme in the UK.
David Armstrong has joined as sales and marketing director having had sales leadership roles in Virgin Media both in NI and GB before joining Vodafone UK to successfully lead their business sales team in Northern Ireland.
Fibrus chief technical officer, Thomas Grant oversaw the design, build and operation of Enet, the Republic of Ireland’s largest full fibre wholesale open access network.
Fibrus’s current plans will see it delivering the network over four years right across Northern Ireland. “It’s about educating the people of NI about full fibre services, and that’s a big task for us,” Dominic said. “It’s about showcasing the life-changing service that Fibrus will provide to homes and businesses that live in the towns and villages of rural and regional NI.”