Eircom CTO defends next-generation network plans

6 Mar 2007

Eircom chief technology officer (CTO) Geoff Shakespeare has hit back at criticism of Eircom’s plans to invest €60m in putting fibre into its core IP network, warning that without the upgrade future fibre-to-the-kerb and fibre-to-the-home services would not be possible.

Shakespeare predicted that within three years 99pc of traffic on the operator’s network will be internet-based, while only 1pc will be voice.

He said that the next-generation network (NGN) investment was a necessary step that all telecom national operators will need to take in order to stay relevant and underlined that contrary to inaccurate claims by licensed telecoms group ALTO, the network will be open to all other operators on commercial terms.

ALTO claimed last week that Eircom’s proposed investment would stifle competition in the telecoms market and millions invested by other operators could be rendered obsolete.

Shakespeare contrasted Eircom’s approach with that of Deutsche Telekom, which has placed a moratorium of three years on allowing other operators to access its NGN, a move that was backed by German State laws. The situation has prompted the EU to take legal proceedings against the German government.

“It is ironic that when we push the envelope out to the industry we get criticised. But the criticism we would get if we didn’t make this investment now would be a lot worse.”

Shakespeare said Eircom is making the €60m investment in its core network to futureproof itself to be capable of offering a minimum of 8MB broadband services that would sustain future internet TV services such as video on demand.

He explained the investment will see the incumbent operator quadruple Ethernet presence to 240 locations countrywide. “At present we have over 4,000 customers signing up every week for broadband.

“Eircom is anticipating greater bandwidth needs and we’ll need the minimum of 8Mbps over the next two or three years.”

Indicating the level of investment required Shakespeare pointed to a number of metrics: the average email uses up 200KB of bandwidth, an email with an attachment can take up to 4MB, a download of a Snow Patrol album could take up to 80MB, an episode of Desperate Housewives 500MB and a copy of Pirates of the Caribbean 3GB.

“Eircom’s core network IP traffic has increased by a factor of eight in the last 18 months,” he said.

When the NGN core is complete Shakespeare said that 10Gbps would be available at 66 sites nationwide for corporate use, 1Gbps speeds will be available at 240 sites nationally and that there would be support for exchange-launched bandwidth of 10Mbps.

“This is effectively the plumbing for the future of Eircom’s network,” he said acknowledging that Eircom is aware that revenues from voice services are in decline and that high-bandwidth services are the future.

“What we are doing is enabling faster speeds without changing the local loop. It will mean faster speeds and less contention with a core that is futureproofed for the next five to 10 years.

“This will be importantly especially when it comes to future TV models,” he explained revealing that the revival of cable players like UPC which is investing in triple-play services that include voice has raised the stakes for Eircom.

“We are looking at future TV models that will incorporate unicast capabilities. This means that your TV experience will be a one-to-one relationship in that you define what TV you want as opposed to the one-to-many situation that is broadcasting today. This will be a key battleground for media in the years ahead.

“An ongoing project will be to look at all the various digital TV platforms ranging from IPTV to technologies such as that of Joost (codenamed the Venice Project) created by the founders of Skype.

“Going forward we will look at fibre-to-the-home trials but in terms of fibre to the kerb, we are going to conduct trials in Q4 of this year in Dublin,” he said.

Shakespeare added that if the company did not invest in its core such concepts as fibre to the kerb would not be possible in the long run.

“The investment in the core will mean that other licensed operators will be able to offer wholesale services of up to 25Mbps. Why something so obvious is being railed against is beyond us. Where is the problem? We are engaging with licensed operators on this and other operators will be able to access backbone and top-up speeds.

“Deutsche Telekom has put a three-year moratorium on its network; Eircom will do no such thing,” Shakespeare said. “Things like fibre to the kerb will not happen unless we invest in the core network. Critics it seems are trying to confuse everyone. There is no downside to this investment.”

Shakespeare added that the €60m was one small, but very vital, step in the company’s overall investment programme that could reach €1bn. “We are investing close to €5m a week in our network. To put this in context, there were 91,000 new homes built in the past year. Each home will require a twisted copper pair which costs €1,000 each. That’s a €91m investment alone.”

In terms of the NGN he confirmed that contracts will be signed next month with network equipment providers.

By John Kennedy