BT to trial 80Mbps fibre broadband in Ireland ahead of potential rollout (exclusive)

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BT is planning to trial fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband in Dun Laoghaire and a number of semi-urban locations across the Republic of Ireland with a view to deploying 80Mbps VDSL broadband. If the trials, which aim to commence next month, are successful, BT Ireland will work to secure funding from its parent company to do a widescale rollout.

The move will mean that broadband providers like Sky and Vodafone, who are wholesale customers of BT, will potentially be able to offer 80Mbps services to their customers.

Northern Ireland, where BT is the incumbent operator, is currently the most fibre-dense region in all of Europe. At the end of March, 89pc of lines in Northern Ireland were connected to a fibre-enabled street cabinet. Current speeds in Northern Irelandare up to 80Mbps and in the UK BT is looking further at speeds of up to 300Mbps.

According to BT Ireland strategy director Peter Evans, BT would like to repeat the feat in the Republic of Ireland.

A planning application has been submitted to Eircom and ComReg to provide fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) in Dun Laoghaire and a number of semi-urban locations that reflect a typical business/residential scenario in other parts of the country are also being considered.

Evans explained that using current ADSL2+ technology it can provide maximum download speeds of 24Mbps and upload speeds of 2Mbps.

However, by deploying fibre-to-the-cabinet and reducing the average length of local loop from 5km down to 800 metres, new services VDSL (Very-high-speed Digital Subscriber Line) broadband would mean download speeds of 80Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps would be possible.

“In a process known as sub loop unbundling, the mini DSLAM equipment is closer to the customer rather than in an exchange and more of the connection is fibre.

“We’ve done this in Northern Ireland where now 90pc of premises are connected via FTTC.”

Price and reliability are key factors ahead of widescale investment

Evans explained that the first customers to take part in the trial will be wholesale and retail business customers.

“The key hurdles in providing FTTC are getting fibre to that location and powering that location.

“We know the technology works so at this stage it is really about testing the process in terms of Eircom and the regulator and making sure that the regulatory process allows access to the last 800 metres of fibre.”

BT is clearly keen to avoid the regulatory debacle that saw the operator invest tens of millions of euros in unbundling local loops in 2002 at exchanges around the country only to have its efforts frustrated at every turn by rival Eircom.

BT exited the consumer broadband market in 2009 via a €4.8m deal with Vodafone that allowed the mobile operator to become a force in the LLU broadband market.

Since then, the LLU process has improved considerably and according to Vodafone’s recent key performance indicators, its fixed-line voice and broadband customer numbers increased 9.3pc year-on-year, reaching 241,000.

“We’re doing this for wholesale customers to make sure they know the technology road map.”

Wholesale customers of BT include UPC, Sky, Three Ireland, Telefonica (O2) and Vodafone.

“We’re hoping that the trial will be up and running by September.

“If the costings and processes are right we would then go back to BT Group and secure funding to do a widescale deployment across Ireland.

“The key to all of this is business case and cost and ultimately being a wholesale provider that we can ensure that we can deliver a good and reliable customer experience.

In recent weeks, BT won a major deal to be the infrastructure partner for Sky, which is rolling out broadband services in Ireland. As well as Sky, BT also functions as an LLU partner for Vodafone, which has captured 17pc of the DSL market in Ireland.

According to BT’s recent financial results, BT Ireland’s consumer division, which operates in Northern Ireland, recorded strong demand for BT Infinity, its superfast fibre-broadband service, which provides consumers with download speeds of up to 76Mbps. Take up increased by more than four-fold year on year.

In the Republic of Ireland, BT is significantly increasing its local loop unbundling (LLU) footprint, giving the company the capability to deliver high-speed broadband to more than 1.1m phone lines around the country at speeds of up to 24Mbs.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com