Enet plans to compete against Eir and SIRO for entire National Broadband Plan rollout

29 Jan 2016

The Ring of Kerry. Fibre ring provider Enet's CEO Conal Henry says the company intends to go head-to-toe against Eir and SIRO to win the National Broadband Plan rollout

This morning, as Enet unveils a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home service for 340 homes and businesses in Ballyseedy, Co Kerry, the company’s CEO Conal Henry told Siliconrepublic.com that it intends to go head-to-head against Eir and SIRO for the Irish Government’s National Broadband Plan, which is priced at between €300m and €500m.

Enet is the wholesale broadband company that manages the Government’s network of Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) in 94 towns around Ireland. Its network is used by 60 different telcos to serve broadband to 600,000 homes and businesses across Ireland.

This morning (29 January), it launched a showcase of how it could deploy 1Gbps fibre broadband in the Kerry town of Ballyseedy.

The aim is to show how it can compete for all or half of the Irish State’s National Broadband Plan, which plans to connect 750,000 homes and businesses in broadband-deprived areas of Ireland with a minimum of 30Mbps broadband. If executed successfully, the  EU-backed plan could see Ireland evolve from a broadband backwater to one of the most digitally advanced nations in Europe.

‘We will be bidding for the National Broadband Plan and our ambition is to bid for the entire rollout’

Operators vying for the lucrative and far-reaching project, which entered pre-qualification stage before Christmas, are already going to great lengths to prove they can go well beyond the minimum speeds specified by the National Broadband Plan

Eir CEO Richard Moat told Siliconrepublc.com this week that the company is pressing ahead with its own plans to grow its fibre footprint to 1.9m homes and firms by 2020, including 300,000 premises in rural areas that will be among the first to be connected to 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services.

Enet will also be battling SIRO, the €450m joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone, which has commenced its own plans to connect homes and businesses in 50 towns to 1Gbps FTTH services.

“We will be bidding for the National Broadband Plan and our ambition is to bid for the entire rollout,” Henry said.

Before Christmas, Department of Communications officials said that the plan is likely to award contracts to either one national provider or split the nation into two zones, with contracts awarded between two operators.

“Either way, we will be competing and if we don’t win the entire plan we will aim to at least win half the plan,” Henry told Siliconrepublic.com.

High stakes investment in broadband will yield long-term economic rewards

He explained that the plan will require joint investment by operators and the State and that the overall rollout will most likely cost €1.5bn to achieve the objectives.

In the case of Ballyseedy, the rollout of FTTH for 340 premises worked out at €800,000 – on average more than €2,300 per premises.

However, when economies of scale are taken into account, Henry estimated that the cost of deploying FTTH for the 750,000 premises will work out at €800 to €1,000 per home, and much higher for homes and businesses on the very edge of the network.

“Fundamentally, a decade from today, everybody in Ireland will have a direct connection to fibre and for them it doesn’t matter who does it. For the State, the business case has been made and accepted and it is all down to execution.”

Henry said that Enet’s position as a pure-play wholesale provider with no retail interests align it perfectly with the National Broadband Plan in terms of creating a fair and open network for other operators to access fibre and compete for business.

Enet was acquired in 2013 by a consortium of US investors that comprises Granahan McCourt, Oak Hill Advisors, and the family of Walter Scott Jr.

Last year, it emerged that Enet is to proceed with its own fibre expansion after raising €12m from the European Investment Bank.

In 2014, Granahan McCourt acquired a majority stake in high-speed wireless provider Airspeed Telecom, which has built a carrier class wireless and fibre network across the country. AirSpeed Telecom is a full service telecom provider to the enterprise and government market.

“Enet is completely committed to wholesale and we see the wholesale access model as vital in the context of the National Broadband Plan.”

He said that where Enet has an edge is the MANs present around the country. “We probably don’t need to use all 94 MANs for the project but certainly 54 will come in very useful.

“Our plan would be to fibre-up the vast majority of homes in rural areas and where it is just not possible we would licence high-quality wireless links using Airspeed.”

Henry said the public-private partnership used for the MANs would be the ideal format for the State to achieve connecting 750,000 homes and firms to fibre by 2020.

“If done right, the National Broadband Plan should yield a ubiquitous, high-quality, future-proofed broadband network to all locations and every premise.”

Ring of Kerry image via Shutterstock

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