Worcester broadband provider Airband secures £100m debt facility to help bridge the rural-urban digital divide

Airband Sophie Crook engineer

Airband, a leading broadband provider for rural homes and businesses across the West of England, has successfully closed a significant £100 million debt package from an international banking consortium including HSBC, Lloyds, German bank Nord LB and Spanish bank Sabadell. The debt facility enables Airband to accelerate its rollout plan with the view to service 600,000 premises with full fibre broadband by 2025.

The rollout of Airband’s full fibre broadband services will cover more than 10,000km of fibre in a bid to close the digital divide seen across the UK between urban and rural communities. Ofcom recently reported that people are living increasingly virtual lives, with data usage in the UK increasing more than ten times from 2013 to 2019.

Airband’s founder, Redmond Peel, said: “We created Airband in 2009 to supply rural areas with the high-quality internet they deserve. The pandemic has increasingly highlighted the deficit some communities in the UK face when it comes to services that those living in urban areas take for granted. Access to reliable and fast broadband that is fit for modern day lives – from home education and online grocery shopping during the lockdown through to the digitisation of many services, such as banking and streaming entertainment – can no longer be considered a luxury, but rather a basic utility.”

Airband has been a long-standing partner of national and local government organisations and has grown rapidly to become the largest infrastructure provider in the rural areas it serves, with the platform currently being able to support 100,000 premises. Increasing demand, changes in regulation and the availability of the Government subsidies have created a unique opportunity for Airband to roll out ultrafast internet, using future-proof gigabit capable fibre to the premises (FTTP) technology. It does this by identifying poorly served areas and working with communities, local councils and the Government to install the necessary infrastructure to deliver full fibre connections.

Redmond added: “As well as bringing full-fibre to communities, we ensure it is available to those in the area at an affordable rate. We invest in the communities we serve, from ongoing maintenance of the network through to supporting the local economy by setting up offices in key districts and generating jobs in the local area.”

Airband also facilitates projects within the community that have a positive societal impact. For example, it has given Devon Air Ambulance access to its broadband on a tactically important farmland site in Romansleigh, in North Devon. This has allowed the service to establish a night landing site that uses remote control lighting on Airband’s telegraph pole in order to operate safely.

Worcester-based Air-band was established 11 years ago by Black Country-born Redmond Peel who was already running a similar company in South Africa.

With BT dragging its heels in committing to the expensive installation of fibre into more rural towns and villages, in 2010, Airband decided to deploy its expertise closer to home.

“We began by rolling out broadband on business parks and into government buildings, including schools.”

Then it moved into in rural areas, first deploying microwave rather than fibre to connect people, because at that time there was no infrastructure. In fact, it was only able to roll out rural fibre broadband at scale three years ago.

The company’s first government contract was in Hereford in 2011, for £65,000. The next one was for £210,000. Since then, Airband has continually won multi million-pound contracts from BDUK, part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Redmond predicts that it won’t be until 2027-2033 when all homes will have fast, reliable broadband. He estimates that only around eight per cent of rural homes currently have good speeds.

Its first major investment was in 2018 when Amber Infrastructure secured a substantial minority shareholding in the company. Last year, global asset manager Aberdeen Standard Investments acquired a majority stake in the business, worth hundreds of millions.