ComReg maintains Eircom Wholesale NGA launch date of 20 May

8 Mar 2013

Ireland telecoms regulator ComReg has restored the launch of wholesale next-generation access (NGA) broadband from 8 April to the original target date of 20 May in response to industry concerns about the testing of the product and its compatibility with other operators’ systems.

ComReg today published a decision whereby Eircom can’t launch next-generation wholesale services until 20 May.

Eircom is in the process of deploying fibre-connected street cabinets that will enable 1.2m homes and businesses in Ireland to get 50Mbps to 70Mbps broadband by 2014. The first NGA services are scheduled to go live in the coming weeks.

According to ComReg, on 19 February, Eircom wrote to ComReg to apply for approval to launch wholesale next-generation access services on 8 April and said a number of operators were supportive of the launch date.

However, after having sought the views of industry, a number of key operators made it clear they did not want to see NGA services launched until the wholesale elements were properly tested.

By contrast, in the UK, BT provided a testing period of nine months before services could be launched. If wholesale NGA launched on 8 April as originally envisaged, there would have been virtually a zero testing period.

In its submission, Vodafone said there was a material risk that incumbent first mover advantage would have been crystallised if the launch went ahead.

Eircom said it believed it had met all the reasonable requirements to ensure no operator would be at a competitive disadvantage in the retail market.

Sky expressed concerns about the fitness for purpose of Eircom’s Wholesale NGA product and said the product would have been incomplete and there would have been a real risk of serious harm being done to competition and consumers.

BT said the NGA industry trial had been badly managed by Eircom, leaving insufficient time for adequate testing, retesting or resolution of issues.

The importance of getting NGA right

Ronan Lupton, the chairman of ALTO, which represents licensed telecoms operators, warned that if the NGA product had launched on 8 April it would not have been fit for purpose.

“Most internet users today would be quite discerning about product quality and the product that would have been launched to the public would have insufficient. It would not have been robust and it would not have been reliable.”

He said the extra time being given may potentially allow the industry to iron out issues. “We all want NGA, and we’re not here to block it. But we don’t want to see something be released that could put next-generation broadband in a bad light.”

Lupton said the kind of issues that need to be tested include systems for installing NGA and dealing with line faults. “For example, every time a customer signs up for NGA it will require a visit from an engineer to make sure that their in-house wiring can sustain the broadband speeds coming from fibre-to-the-cabinet. Systems need to be tested for scheduling engineers, fixing line faults and reporting issues.

“In the UK, BT allowed nine months for this kind of testing. The entire industry here needs to have confidence in the wholesale network prior to launch.”

Eircom response

Incumbent operator Eircom has expressed its dismay at the decision.

“Eircom is bitterly disappointed with today’s decision. eircom has fulfilled all of our regulatory obligations concernedwith the launch of wholesale NGA services,” a spokesman said.

“We are currentlyin the middle of investment programme that will see the company spend €1.5bn over a six year period tobuild the most comprehensive network in Ireland, a network for a nation, that will support a step change in the quality of broadband services currently available.”

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