Eir CEO: ‘The priority is to get high-speed broadband to everybody in Ireland’

29 Apr 2016

Eir CEO Richard Moat said that the six-month delay to the National Broadband Plan is not the issue, the issue is ultimately getting broadband to everyone

Eir CEO Richard Moat has said that the expected delays to the National Broadband Plan rollout are not substantial and that speed and scale will see most rural homes in Ireland receive high-speed broadband by 2019.

Moat said that Eir will reach 1.7m premises in Ireland with high-speed broadband by the end of this year.

After that the company will aim to get to 1.9m premises – 80pc of homes in Ireland – as soon as possible.

Moat was speaking to Siliconrepublic.com today (29 April) after the company announced reported Q3 revenues of €321m, a 3pc increase on last year.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Moat said that the news that the first contracts from the National Broadband Plan will not be awarded until May or June 2017 is not a substantial delay, in reality just five to six months.

‘There’s a lot of frustration in rural Ireland because people want higher speeds and they want them now’

“What people need to realise is that it will be three to five years when the rollout will be complete – but the bulk of the work will take place in the earlier part.”

Moat’s assertions were echoed by acting Minister for Communications Alex White on RTE Radio 1 today when he pointed out that the plan was to cover 85pc of broadband-deprived homes with a minimum 30Mbps speeds in the first two years (by 2019).

“It’s the remaining 15pc that will take longer, because it is more complex in remote areas,” the Minister told RTE Radio 1.

NBP delay not a substantial issue, says Eir CEO

Moat said that Eir is competing for the National Broadband Plan against four other consortiums. He said that part of the reason for the delay was that one of the consortia requested that a deadline for February be extended until the end of March.

“There’s a lot of frustration in rural Ireland because people want higher speeds and they want them now. No other operator is investing as much as us or investing at the same pace or rolling out at the same scale.

‘What we are really talking about in this debate is the 450,000 homes beyond that rollout. That rollout is happening now and we are putting our money where our mouth is’

“As a business, we will be at 1.7m premises at the end of the year and 1.9m soon after that.”

He said Eir’s footprint plans will cover 300,000 of the 750,000 addresses in rural broadband-deprived areas addressed in the National Broadband Plan.

“What we are really talking about in this debate is the 450,000 homes beyond that rollout. That rollout is happening now and we are putting our money where our mouth is.

“We are going to participate in the [competition for] National Broadband Plan, pre-qualifying and we are eager for the next phase. If we are chosen it will roll out sooner because we are faster and because of the scale and the architecture.

“We don’t think it is possible for anyone else to do. Our rollout at the start was slow, now it is industrialised. We know the pitfalls, we redesigned the equipment to make it easier to use and we now have 300,000 homes in our footprint passed with fibre-to-the-home.

“We have the expertise, the financing and the desire to do as much as possible and we are demonstrating that we can operate at speed and scale. 80pc of Ireland with high-speed broadband by next year will be a fact.”

A reverse digital divide?

I put it to Moat that once 100,000 of the homes in broadband-deprived areas have 1Gbps fibre by March 2017, it will create a reverse digital divide. Does the operator plan to fill out its existing footprint with 1Gbps?

“I know we are creating a reverse digital divide – fibre to the cabinet doesn’t’ t make economic sense once you roll out fibre-to-the-home in rural Ireland. It took time for our thinking to evolve. We didn’t set out with this end-goal in mind but it became plain over time that we could be more flexible in our approach. Plus the price of the equipment has been coming down and we’ve been driving hard bargains with our suppliers.”

CFO Huib Costermans said that Eir is also evaluating technologies that can enable further speed increases over existing copper networks including G.Fast and VDSL+ within Eir’s existing network.

Moat added: “We will definitely increase speeds in the areas we already cover, but for now the immediate priority is to get higher speed broadband to everybody in Ireland.”

On the road to 5G

Responding to a question about Eir’s plans for mobile specifically in terms of 5G, Moat said that while there is momentum in the industry around it, it could be 2020 before it starts coming into general use.

“We are focused at the moment on 4G and we are planning to take coverage from 75pc of the population to 90pc and beyond that in the first part of the calendar year 2017.

“4G is a key enabler for people who want to use data on the move. We want to be the network of chose for data. We have a great 3G network and 75pc of our 3G sites can handle 40Mbps dual-carrier and increasing 4G to 90pc of the country is a compelling argument.”

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