Eir reveals €500m investment in 10Gbps fibre-to-the-home broadband

11 Feb 2019

Eir CEO Carolan Lennon. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Eir’s new FTTH network will include every town in Ireland that has more than 1,000 people.

Ireland’s largest telecoms operator, Eir, today (11 February) revealed details of a major €500m investment in fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband that will cover 1.4m premises across Ireland.

The new network – which will be future-proofed for speeds of up to 10Gbps – will come hot on the heels of Eir’s FTTH roll-out in rural Ireland this June, covering 335,000 premises as part of a €250m investment by the company.

‘When we get the machine up and running, some 75pc of homes will be passed and Ireland will be number three in Europe’

Eir CEO Carolan Lennon said that by June, Eir will have invested more than €600m in fibre broadband across Ireland, with high-speed, fibre-based services reaching more than 80pc of premises, or 1.9m homes and businesses in Ireland.

The new network roll-out will effectively see FTTH be built over locations that currently have fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services. She explained that the roll-out will particularly accelerate in areas with a lot of similarities and economies of scale, such as housing estates and towns.

In recent months, Eir also revealed a €150m plan to bring 4G to 99pc geographic coverage in Ireland.

The chair of Eir, David McRedmond, said that Ireland currently boasts one of the top European high-speed broadband networks. “More surprising was the knowledge that Ireland has one of the better rural networks in Europe and is in the upper quartile as measured by the European Commission.

“Ireland is not behind in broadband, it is now one of the better countries. Yes, there are people who still can’t get broadband, and yes, we will get to them.”

Lennon said that the narrative on broadband in Ireland is changing and that when Eir started its next-generation access (NGA) roll-out, population coverage for high-speed broadband stood at 30pc. It is now at 90pc, she said.

“We are in the top 10pc in Europe, and the only country that has made more progress is Italy.”

80,000 extra premises in rural areas to get FTTH

In terms of the rural broadband roll-out agreed with the Irish Government in 2017, Lennon said that the €250m spent was all Eir’s own money and that the plan is currently within budget, and 35,000 extra homes were added.

She revealed that if you combine that 35,000 with the potential “in-fill” that will come from Eir deploying FTTH, as many as 80,000 additional homes will be served with FTTH broadband.

Describing the roll-out team of engineers as a “machine”, Lennon said that once the rural broadband roll-out is completed in June, Eir will “point that machine at a national fibre build” that will see 1.4m premises upgraded to fibre directly to the building.

Lennon said that the FTTH build will take around four-and-a-half years to complete but the project plan involves reaching, on average, 75,000 premises a quarter.

“We believe in fibre to the home and we are going to over-build on top of our fibre-to-the-cabinet network. When we get the machine up and running, some 75pc of homes will be passed and Ireland will be number three in Europe. Every town with more than 1,000 premises will get fibre to the home.”

Lennon said that the rural FTTH roll-out required 50,000km of fibre, which she joked “is enough fibre to circle the moon”.

Lennon told media in Dublin that the acquisition of a majority stake in the company by French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel’s NJJ-led consortium last year at an enterprise value of €3.5bn led to an injection of new philosophies and ways of doing things. This included moving customer support in-house and to new hubs in Sligo, Cork and Limerick, generating 750 new jobs in process.

On the subject of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) – the Irish Government’s broadband plan for more than 540,000 premises in rural Ireland that is still awaiting a decision on the final bid – Lennon said she believed that once it gets going, it could take up to several years to build.

Eir sensationally left the troubled NBP tendering process more than a year ago.

“The final bidder has been engaging with us and we engage with them. Our prices are regulated and are there, and the team has been given plans of what we can do per quarter. It’s up to them to put that into their bid.”

Lennon said Eir “didn’t pull out lightly” from the NBP bidding process. “We spent €7m on that bid and it took a crate to get our submission there [to the Department of Communications]. We engaged strongly and wholeheartedly in it.”

She added: “The NBP will take five to seven years. That’s the challenge of building in rural Ireland; you can fly in splicing equipment but not necessarily the civil teams, there’s only so much capacity. There needs to be a realism about how long it will take.”

Returning to Eir’s own €1.4bn broadband plan, from a competitive standpoint Lennon said that it will enable Eir to be more competitive in towns and cities against rivals such as Virgin.

“It will be significant in regaining share in Dublin. We haven’t really taken market share from Virgin in big cities but, with the overall proposition, pricing and content, including a capability to go as high as 10Gbps, it really gives us a real tool in our armour to regain market share in the cities.”

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