E-net makes €25m investment in next-generation access

23 May 2011

Open access operator E-net is to create 20 new technical jobs and 30 construction jobs as part of a €25m investment that CEO Conal Henry says will focus on targeting the difficult issue of next-generation access in Ireland’s regions.

The company, which is responsible for managing the State’s MAN (metropolitan area network) infrastructure in 94 towns across Ireland, is investing the €25m from its own resources, Henry told Siliconrepublic.com.

“We will invest €2.5m a year over the next 10 years from E-net’s shareholders fund in improving the ability for businesses to connect to the MANs.”

Across Ireland some 38 telcos, including Vodafone, BT, UPC and Imagine, connect to the MANs to enable them to better serve regional cities and towns with fibre access.”

Henry said the key to Ireland’s telecoms future is an open access, carrier neutral and wholesale-only network.

“Putting in a high quality next-generation network could generate a 1pc increase in GDP which is the equivalent of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in new taxes for the Exchequer.

“Ireland needs to pick up the pace on this and bring fibre to business and platform solutions in the regions where there are significant opportunities.”

Resolving the access issue and bringing fibre-to-the-premises (FTTH) or fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) represents the most challenging aspect of implementing any next-generation network in terms of the logistics and scale of civil engineering required.

Henry’s point is key because the MANs are already connected to backhaul networks up and down the country which in turn are connected to global networks. Bringing this scale of connectivity to every town, home and business in the country is a challenge.

The new Government, as part of its Programme for Government, stated it aimed to achieve 90pc fibre connectivity to premises across the land.

The scale of investment required is the question. Last year, TIF and Analysys Mason revealed a study that estimated rolling out the next-generation broadband infrastructure Ireland needs to be economically viable and relevant in the 21st-century digital economy could be as high as €2.5bn.

Crossing the divide

Henry continued: “The MANs were brought in to bridge the digital divide and we believe they have done a great job in closing the divide.

“Now we’re at a point where the level of fibre in the State is plentiful. The next big battle will be next-generation access to allow firms to access fibre-quality broadband and services.

“It’s true Ireland hasn’t done well over the years in the various league tables but I’ve seen broadband quality in other countries, including the heart of Silicon Valley, and they have problems in terms of the access network and if we can crack this early enough there’s a chance for Ireland to get in first and build a magnificent digital economy.”

Henry said the only way Ireland will achieve leadership in the emerging digital economy is to invest in world-class infrastructure.

“Industry will not be able to do it on its own, State support will be required.”

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