Eir’s 300,000-home rural broadband roll-out begins in earnest

19 Apr 2017

Open Eir’s director of sales, marketing and service, Orlagh Nevin. Image: Connor McKenna

Up to 1,000 people are actively engaged in the largest rural infrastructure project seen in Ireland in years, says Open Eir’s Orlagh Nevin.

As I pass through Eir’s headquarters near Heuston Station in Dublin, a crowd of executives and engineers are gathered on one of the floors to celebrate having passed 40,000 rural fibre connections.

Open Eir’s director of sales, marketing and service, Orlagh Nevin, said their jubilation is justified. “This is the largest infrastructure project that this country has seen in a long time.”

Nevin is referring to the Eir agreement with the Irish Government to invest an additional €200m to upgrade 890 communities to fibre broadband.

‘Ireland is too small to centre all opportunities in cities and towns. What we want to do is make sure people can work where they want to live’

This will see 300,000 premises connected to state-of-the-art fibre, bringing Eir’s total fibre footprint in Ireland to 1.9m premises by the end of 2018.

According to Communications Minister Denis Naughten, TD, one house every minute of every working day will get fibre-to-the-door, high-speed broadband over the next 90 weeks.

It is an ambitious project designed to dovetail with the National Broadband Plan, which has been revised to connect a separate 542,000 premises, including an additional 84,500 identified for the High-Speed Broadband Map.

Eir plans to send fibre along 23,000km of Irish roads, equal to more than half the circumference of the world.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com at Eir’s headquarters, Nevin said: “If you can imagine in terms of size, scale and scope, we are reaching further into the heart of rural Ireland than any other operator in this country. We have made a commitment to the Department that by the end of 2018, we will have completed 1.9m premises.

“Already to date, we have done 40,000 premises and, in fact, today we are celebrating with all of the staff in our networks and our wholesale division.”

A boost for rural regeneration

Nevin said that the deployment of fibre will benefit rural communities, removing a barrier that had prevented people from remaining in rural Ireland, and enabling them to build lives and businesses in the places they want to stay.

Crucially, it will be a boost for job creation, social inclusion and rural regeneration.

“The ironic thing is the world is moving on but people are still trying to catch up. Farmers are expected to upload herd information to the Department of Agriculture online, for example, so they need this access. We are seeing farmers across Ireland embrace this technology, using cameras to monitor cattle during calving season, and many farmers are now part-time farmers so they need to be able to fund their other job and interact with the farming community.

“Ireland is too small to centre all opportunities in cities and towns. What we want to do is make sure people can work where they want to live.”

She cited the example of Isabel O’Donovan of Castletownbere in Cork who, thanks to broadband, was able to develop Issie’s Handmade Chocolate into an online business, with customers as far afield as the US.

“Broadband allows communities and villages to remain intact and it helps to bring back community, especially people who had emigrated, and helps them to start businesses or work from home.

She said that across Ireland, ridiculous commute times could also be reduced if people can work from home.

Crucially, within Eir, the advent of fibre deployment has had a huge cultural impact on the company.

“The passion and pride in the network guys – that they are rolling out state-of-the-art future networks in a country that they live and work in and, more importantly, in a community that they live in – is clear.”

Nevin said that up to 1,000 people are actively engaged in the rural broadband deployment.

“For fibre to the home, we have 400 internal staff and 100 planners, and we are also engaged with KN Networks contracting 500 people, so that’s 1,000 people across this country who are now working in the communities they live in, delivering state-of-the-art future networks that are going to deliver life back into their communities.

“Today, there is drive and passion and we are outrunning all of our competitors at the moment, and that makes me feel proud.”

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