Insight Bite: Airband raises funds from the NDIF in a bid to increase high speed broadband connectivity

“I am delighted that Worcester-based Airband, one of rural Britain’s leading independent wireless and fibre ISPs, has raised £8.5m to fund its ongoing network build” – Marcus Allchurch, Acuity Partner

Airband, a Worcester based wireless ISP (WISP) whose radio network covers over 20,000 premises, has raised £8.5 million in funding from the National Digital Infrastructure Fund (NDIF), a government supported infrastructure investment fund managed by Amber Infrastructure Group, to help it connect more homes and businesses to high speed broadband. As part of the transaction, NDIF has acquired a substantial minority shareholding, and committed up to £16 million of additional funding to provide the company with flexible capital for its network expansion. This marks the 11th investment in an independent ISP’s network rollout since July 2017, with total transaction value in excess of £1.2 billion (excluding fibre initiatives from the major operators such as BT, Virgin, TalkTalk etc.).

Wireless superfast and ultrafast access (from 20Mbps up to 1Gbps) is a remarkably practical and cost effective solution for communities where the time and cost for a full fibre rollout cannot be justified. Whilst passing premises using full fibre can cost anywhere up to several thousand pounds per property – with considerable building work to deliver the fibre in certain locations, companies such as Airband, Voneus and County Broadband are able to deliver a network at a fraction of the cost and within a very short time period as the radio equipment is quick to install. As a result of these benefits wireless technology can be a very effective way of rapidly building a network and acquiring customers. The challenge for WISPs over the longer term is how to hold on to those customers as fibre networks eventually creep out further into those hard-to-reach places.

Amber Infrastructure Group has proven highly supportive of the ultrafast connectivity market, having earlier this year invested in Community Fibre – an exciting business which is delivering ultrafast internet access across London. Like Gigaclear’s investor, Infracapital, Amber Infrastructure is also managing funds from the UK Government’s Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF). Whilst these organisations clearly have a focus on the sector, Amber and Infracapital are by no means the only show in town for companies seeking investment for connectivity rollouts; indeed Acuity client TrueSpeed raised £75 million from Aviva Investors in 2017 and we are in constant discussions with many other funds who are keen to back high quality management teams capable of participating in the current landgrab.

The UK is undergoing a step-change in its digital infrastructure right now, and it is pleasing to see that both government and the private sector can see the opportunities and benefits which this presents. We strongly believe there is a land-grab taking place over the coming years after which there will be a period of consolidation. The potential for returns should be significant, and we are excited to play a role supporting great teams to access capital.

Marcus Allchurch, Partner, Acuity

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