100k homes and businesses are caught in broadband limbo

18 May 2015

This morning Eircom reported that 1.2m homes and firms are now connected to the company’s fibre broadband. That figure could have read 1.3m homes and firms if not for a dispute between operators.

Approximately 100,000 homes and business in regional towns across Ireland are currently being denied broadband speeds of up to 100Mbps due to a dispute between Eircom, BT and ComReg.

The dispute centres on the location of the new fibre-to-the-cabinet boxes that make speeds of up to 100Mbps possible.

Operators like BT are complaining that locating this equipment in exchanges rather than on streets where space is at a premium is causing signal interference and therefore affecting other providers’ ability to serve customers nearby.

“We hope that it is going to be resolved quickly,” said Richard Moat, CEO of Eircom.

“The technical issues are under examinsation. We would have 100,000 customers connected to fibre broadband immediately if this were resolved.

“Whether it’s customers of Eircom retail or our wholesale partners these are homes that could be passed and I hope it doesn’t run on and on. It is in the interest of those customers that we hope it gets revolved soon.”

Broadband is the gift that keeps giving

Moat was speaking to Siliconrepublic.com following the publication of Eircom’s financial results that saw the operator report Eircom reports Q3 revenues of €311m, down 1pc year-on-year and the reduction of operating and wage costs.

The company reported it now has 766,000 total broadband connections, up 9pc year-on-year, and including 18,000 broadband connections in the third quarter.

The company said that its fibre network now passes 1.2m homes, more than 50pc of the company’s countrywide customer base. But as Moat said that figure could have read 1.3m.

Uptake of the company’s fibre broadband services is accelerating and the company now has 242,000 paying fibre customers, up 40,000.

Commenting on the figures, Moat said: “I think that we have started to see stabilisation in the fixed-line revenue and continued errosion of fixed-asset base but growth in broadband compensated for that with growth of 9pc year-on-year.”

Moat said that TV is a big driver with 26pc of its fibre base – or 37,000 customers – now using TV.

He said that the momentum is being fueled by the addition of new channels like Sky Sports 3, 4 and 5. “And we continue to keep looking to expand our channel content as we go forward.”

Despite its financial difficulties in recent years, Eircom has continued to surprise, not only becoming a quad-play operator providing broadband, phone, TV and mobile services, but sticking rigidly to a plan that will see the company serve 1.6m homes and businesses with fibre broadband by the middle of next year.

On the question of whether Eircom is troubled by the likelihood that quite soon it will no longer be the only quad-play provider if UPC enters the fray as an MVNO, Moat said he welcomes the competition.

“We are getting stronger all the time. We will have 1.6m homes passed by the middle of next year and we will have 1Gbps fibre to the home rolling out in 66 towns. That is a really good bedrock of services to build on and we are the only player with the infrastructure across all of these technologies.

“Even if UPC launch as an MVNO we are assuming it will be geographically limited to offer quad-play services at a target base of where it has cable broadband.

“As we become a much stronger company financially, we will be ready to respond to these market developments as they arise.”

From a quad-play perspective Eircom reported this morning that it had 1.85m revenue generating units and 22pc of customers now have TV and mobile bundles.

On the mobile front Eircom said that it has more than 250,000 4G customers. Post-paid customers grew by 9,000 during the quarter.

“The uptake of 4G is a big driver of revenue and is driving the success of the mobile business. By the time we get to the end of this year we will have 70pc population coverage with 4G.”

Eircom is currently deploying fibre at the speed of 10,000 homes per week

Eircom is planning to compete later this year for some or all of a Government tender to fulfill the aims of the National Broadband Plan to connect more than 600,000 homes and 100,000 businesses with fibre broadband. This will require the equivalent of dragging fibre over 100,000km of roads and will cost the State in the region of €516m.

“The National Broadband Plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something important for the nation at the scale of the rural electrification in the 20th century,” Moat said.

“This is something I would definitely aspire to seeing Eircom play a part in. We are in a position that we can bid for the buiness and be the company that provides those transformational services.

“By the time we get to 1.6m premises next year we would be the player best placed to deliver the final 700,000 premises.

“We are currently deploying fibre broadband in Ireland at the rate of 10,000 premises a week,” Moat said.

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