BT is on target with its 21st Century Network (21CN) plans for Ireland, its chief executive told siliconrepublic.com, and is in the process of rolling out 8MB broadband services in a number of locations across the country.
BT today revealed that the first phase of its 8Mbps (megabits per second) programme is currently being rolled out in the following exchange areas: Tallaght, Dun Laoghaire, Dolphins Barn, North Main (Dublin 1), Terenure, Merrion, Crown Alley, Beggars Bush, Swords, Clondalkin, Summerhill (Dublin), Blanchardstown, Naas and Dooradoyle.
Consumers will be able to get up to 8Mbps for €26.50 as part of a bundle with a 30Gb usage allowance while businesses can avail of up to 8Mbps for €40 with no download limits.
However, BT Ireland chief executive Chris Clark speaking with siliconrepublic.com warned that without government and regulatory assistance the country is facing the bleak possibility of a digital divide between large urban areas and remote rural districts.
“Ireland has a unique dynamic in terms of the physical distribution of people,” he said. “The vast majority of people live in a couple of conurbations and for a telecoms sector this presents a lot of challenges.
“I also think there needs to be greater adoption of internet service to do day-to-day tasks such as banking, there needs to be greater uptake of online banking in Ireland, for example.
Clark believes that the constantly changing ownership of Eircom over the years had had an impact on the development curve of telecoms in Ireland and he also believes that across the industry as a whole customer service levels need to improve.
The burning issue in Clark’s mind is the topic of local loop unbundling and the need to create a wholesale environment where competition can flourish.
“Eircom and ComReg have made significant progress in the last 12 months. Everyone in the industry knows what needs to be done but it’s really a case of executing against that. We’re all learning from this process. We’ve made the first steps but we really need to accelerate and make it easy for customers to switch providers if they wish.
“BT will always be in a relationship with the incumbent operator Eircom. Things will work and some things won’t work but at the end of the day we all need to deliver excellence for the customer.”
Clark says that BT in Ireland is about to rollout 8MB broadband services and is on target with its 21CN plans. However, he believes that across the industry the debate needs to move towards the application of the technology and not always on the infrastructure.
“We’re debating infrastructure but we need to move the debate on to how we can leverage services on top of the new networks. One key issue is to open up competition through LLU and make sure Ireland doesn’t end up with a digital divide.”
Clark says his personal challenge is to bring the global might of BT to consumers and businesses in Ireland.
“Our strategy is to make broadband the fabric of business and consumer life. We’re seeing more services being offered in the UK and we want broadband to be as available and easy to use as turning on electricity. It will be in the infrastructure and the consumer or businessperson won’t care if it’s fixed or wireless as long as they’re connected.”
He said he has every confidence that Ireland’s infrastructure bottlenecks will be removed. “How quickly this happens, however, will depend on: how we as operators are executing our own plans; customer demand and how quickly people will adopt next generation services; and ensuring a great experience through these new technologies and services.”
Clark predicts a number of roadblocks: “As well as the industry executing its plans it’s down to regulation and Government policy.
“I’ve a simple philosophy on the subject: let’s grow the pie rather than squabbling over little pieces of the pie.
“The real challenges for us as an industry are to fix the infrastructural deficit, roll out LLU and have a competitive market. Let’s get to 100pc broadband penetration. I’ve every confidence we can do that as we mature as an industry.”
By John Kennedy
• Chris Clark will be speaking at the ‘Beyond Broadband’ conference organised by the Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) which will take place at Dublin’s Mansion House on 16 October.