CABLE operator Magnet Networks is embarking on an ambitious plan to establish itself as the number one alternative telecommunications provider in the state at a cost of more than 90m.
"We intend to become a household name, " said Ken Peterson, founder and executive chairman of Magnet's parent company, the US private equity firm Columbia Ventures. "In three to four months here, we'll be rivalling BT Ireland with the amount of unbundling that we've done."
Unbundling is the process by which alternative operators are allowed access to Eircom's network by installing their equipment in exchanges to roll out services over the existing infrastructure rather than having to build their own.
Magnet has lodged applications with Eircom to get access to exchanges in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, and hopes to roll out broadband internet, telephone and digital television services to consumers in those cities by early 2006.
Last week the company announced the unbundling of a number of exchanges in Dublin, and the roll out of a technology called ADSL2+ through which Magnet aims to supply high-speed internet, TV and telephone services.
Peterson said the move into the consumer market will be backed by an extensive advertising campaign, Magnet's first since it launched in Ireland in 2003, covering press, television and radio.
Magnet entered the Irish market when it acquired Hibernia Atlantic, a fibre-optic cable network linking the US and Ireland, from bankrupt Canadian company 360 Networks for $17m. The network had cost over $800m to build.
Magnet initially focused on installing fibre-optic cable at new housing developments and connecting them back to its own network.
Having signed partnerships with developers such as Menolly Homes and Gannon Properties, it has installed cable and begun providing what Magnet refers to as the "triple play" of internet, TV and telephone services to several new housing developments in Dublin and Meath.
Magnet feels the time has come to make a push into mainstream consumer telecoms. Peterson's Columbia Ventures has invested 25m in Magnet to date, in addition to the $17m it spent to buy the business. It will spend another 65m over the next three years on "increasing the facilities, the footprint, additional development in fibre-to-thehome, unbundling the local loop and equipment for each subscriber".
Peterson said the company may also grow the business through acquisition if the opportunities arise. Earlier this year it spent 7m to buy wireless internet provider Leap Broadband. "We're going down a road to enhance our business organically but we don't have any difficulty making acquisitions, " he said.