When Eircom CEO Herb Hribar is asked about what kind of transformative year 2014 will be for Eircom, he says 2013 has actually been the year of transformation, with the impending launch of 4G, the arrival of 70Mbps fibre-to-the-cabinet and the boosting of international connectivity in and out of Ireland from 400Gbps to 5Tbps (terabits per second).
A longstanding veteran of the telecoms industry, Hribar makes it clear that even before Eircom exited its examinership last year, the wheels were already in motion to change the incumbent operator both culturally and technologically.
“The key message from us is that we are investing. We are well into a €1.5bn programme to invest in our network. We are building what we believe is the network for a nation. We are building out 1.2m households with fibre products with speeds up to 70Mbps and shortly we will be announcing 4G and LTE.
“We think the 4G speeds – as we roll out that capability – will show sustained speeds in the 10 to 15Mbps range,” Hribar said, resisting the temptation to talk up the 4G promise. He believes giving people a realistic idea of what they can expect with 4G is the fairest route.
“We’ll have TV soon and that’s going to allow us to have a unique and powerful quad play offer, which we think will establish quad play in the market.”
A key dimension of Eircom’s investment plan involves boosting international connectivity from 400Gbps to 5Tbps.
“That means a very low latency capability in the range of a 10 to 12 millisecond round trip.”
“By the end of June 2014, when we complete that investment, we will have the capability of going up to 5Tbps – a tenfold increase in capacity in and out of Ireland. We think that we are well on our way towards a major transformation of not only Eircom but also the country, whose aspirations are of becoming a digital hub for the world.”
After an arduous process, Eircom exited examinership in June of last year with a new funding plan and new shareholders.
“We we are still in the process of transforming. We’ve gone from a company that a year ago was emerging from the largest examinership in Europe with a €1.7bn writedown of debt but we are well into our investment programme. We are transforming ourselves into a leader in technology in fixed and mobile connectivity, we are building out new capabilities with our data centres and also we are taking a major step forward in cloud computing.
“So the Eircom of the past that was reluctant to invest, that was burdened with debt and that was slow-moving has been left behind. We are addressing our cost base, we are moving forward with technology and we are developing the capabilities that we think will make us a leader in this market and in telecoms.”
Hribar’s pedigree in the telecoms industry – which involves stints in cable as well as copperline, fibre and mobile – has given him a respect for studying major trends as technology evolves and he believes in keeping Ireland in the front line of new developments.
He mentions the internet of things. “Today, we have 2.5bn internet users worldwide, but over 8bn devices connected to the internet globally and that’s only going to accelerate with tablets, machine-to-machine (M2M), faster mobility and better connectivity.
“In terms of Eircom and where Eircom is going in terms of enabling this and moving this forward, the key thing is a lot of this is going to be about two big trends: one is big data and the second is higher-speed mobility.”
He said Ireland holds a number of ace cards when it comes to big data, especially because all 10 of the top 10 born-on-the-internet companies have headquarters in Ireland and the fact the country ranks as the world’s largest exporter of software.
“What Eircom brings to the table is the network, the data centres and the cloud capability. In terms of connectivity, we’ve talked about the fact that by the end of the fiscal year we’ll have increased the speeds connecting Ireland to the rest of the world at 5Tbps and we’ll have launched and rolled out our 4G network. We’ll have rolled out FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) for 1.2m homes by 2015 – certainly these big trends are going to be enabled by Eircom in terms of network, data centres and higher-speed mobility and also moving into the cloud.”
Supporting the global economy
Hribar says Eircom has a critical role to play in getting the Irish economy back to where it needs to be and he says the technology investments by Eircom will put Ireland at the leading edge of technology as opposed to being a laggard.
“FTTC and new 4G technology: it’s going to enable an entire new world of apps and capabilities that are going to speed things up.
He says Ireland is doing it just right in terms of creating the business-friendly environment that continues to attract the world’s top technology companies.
He says the challenge for Ireland right now is to train its own people in terms of turning out engineers, scientists and mathematicians who can fill the range of new jobs being created.
“The universities are now teaching entrepreneurship and innovation. This is all key in terms of setting the country up for the future. What Eircom is doing is making sure we have the absolute best infrastructure we can deliver and making sure we are world class in all the capabilities.”
In terms of the FTTC investment plan, Hribar says Eircom will have passed 1.2m homes with FTTC by next year, which involves growing the fibre footprint from 8,000 kilometres to 15,000 kilometres next year.
“Eircom is doing a lot to support Ireland’s ambitions to become a leading digital hub in the world economy,” he says.
Herb Hribar will feature as a panelist at Silicon Republic’s sixth Digital Ireland Forum in Dublin on Friday, 20 September.