Eir confirms 5G roll-out to begin in 2019 as investment ramps up

27 Feb 2019

Fergal McCann, director of mobile networks at Eir, with Carolan Lennon, CEO of Eir. Image: Fennells

Incumbent operator has big mobile and fibre plans for the years ahead.

The CEO of Eir, Carolan Lennon, has said that the company has invested more in telecoms infrastructure than any other company in Ireland and that 5G services will launch here later this year.

Eir this morning (27 February) reported stable Q2 financials with revenue of €322m in the second quarter and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) of €19m, which is up 15pc on last year.

‘Our €1bn capital investment programme over the next five years will deliver the very best fixed and mobile experience for all our customers across the country’

For the first half of 2018, Eir said it recorded a 1pc decline (€4m) in revenue of €634m, while EBITDA of €279m was up 13pc (€32m) on last year.

A distinctive development last year was the launch of Eir’s €150m mobile network investment, which will see 1,000 masts upgraded to enhance 4G coverage to 99pc of Ireland’s geography.

In terms of infrastructure, Eir reported that 1.86m premises are now passed with high-speed fibre technology. It said that 246,000 premises are passed as part of the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) roll-out in rural Ireland and that overall, 79pc of the premises it serves are now passed with fibre technology.

From a customer perspective, it is serving 670,000 fibre broadband connections or 72pc of the total broadband base. Eir said that 31pc of customers are now on triple- or quad-play bundles comprising broadband, TV, mobile and landline products.

Last year French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel’s NJJ-led consortium acquired a majority stake in Eir at an enterprise value of €3.5bn.

“Eir has invested more in telecoms infrastructure in Ireland than any other telecoms company, and Eir has consistently spent more on its infrastructure than any other national operator in Europe, investing €1.5bn in telecoms infrastructure across Ireland in the last five years,” Lennon said.

“We are proud that this significant investment to date has helped bring high-speed broadband to more than 90pc of the Irish population according to the European Commission, putting Ireland in the top 25pc of EU countries for rural high-speed broadband coverage.

“Our €1bn capital investment programme over the next five years will deliver the very best fixed and mobile experience for all our customers across the country.”

The next step to 5G

Commenting on the investment programme for both broadband and mobile, Lennon said that more than €500m will be spent over the next five years to build a network that will pass 1.4m premises directly with FTTH capable of speeds up to 10Gbps. “That’s every town with more than 1,000 premises.

“The investment will follow the completion in June this year of Eir’s FTTH roll-out to 335,000 rural premises, at a cost of €250m to Eir and with no public subsidy. We have passed 246,000 rural homes and businesses with super-fast FTTH broadband, and by June we will have invested more than €600m in fibre broadband, delivering high-speed fibre broadband to more than 80pc of Irish premises, or 1.9m homes and businesses across the country.

“Our €150m investment in our mobile network is already underway, allowing Eir to deliver 4G voice and data coverage across more than 99pc of Ireland within two years, on the most expansive 4G mobile network in the world.

“The investment will also see the roll-out of 5G services later in the year, delivering the most technologically advanced mobile data services in Ireland’s cities.”

At a recent press briefing, Lennon said that the first 5G deployments will happen first in large Irish cities. She also confirmed that Eir will be sticking with Chinese telecoms equipment player Huawei – currently in the crosshairs of US lawmakers – for construction of its radio access network roll-out, and is working with Sweden’s Ericsson on the build of its core network.

Customer care

Lennon added that a priority is to reverse Eir’s reputation for poor customer service, with the linchpin of the plan centring on new regional hubs in Cork, Limerick and Sligo, recruiting 750 customer care operatives. The company said its customer care insourcing programme is almost complete.

“Since October we have hired and trained over 300 new front-line staff across our three new care hubs, and 220 staff have transferred to Eir. Every week more than 40 new care agents complete training and begin taking calls, with performance improving every day. We firmly believe that these changes will result in a better experience for Eir’s customers in the long term.”

In relation to the National Broadband Plan tender process, which Eir exited more than a year ago, Lennon said that it will support the remaining bidder by making sure its infrastructure is ready and available.

“We are allocating significant resources in order to provide this support and will continue to do so, to help realise the shared ambition of high-speed broadband for all homes and businesses as soon as possible.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years