Rural Ireland could still leapfrog Europe for broadband, says Eir (video)

27 Apr 2016

The managing director of Open Eir, the telecom operator Eir's wholesale arm, Carolan Lennon

Despite the National Broadband Plan likely being delayed to 2022, Eir has said it is still rolling out fibre to 300,000 of the 750,000 premises in deprived areas.

Open Eir’s wholesale chief Carolan Lennon said she believes Ireland could yet leapfrog Europe for broadband speeds.

Yesterday, people in rural areas of Ireland were dealt a blow when it emerged that the National Broadband Plan’s start will be delayed by a year and that it could be 2022 by the time the project is completed.

The National Broadband Plan envisages to connect 1.8m people living at 750,000 postal addresses in broadband-deprived areas to minimum speeds of 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload.

‘Pushing it out to 2022 would be an awful shame. It doesn’t suit us at all because our train has very firmly left the station and we want to keep that momentum going’

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications told yesterday (26 April) that the complex procurement process – costed at between €300m to €500m and supported by EU state aid – means that first contracts won’t be rewarded until 2017.

Despite this, the plan has helped to spur on operators, including Eir, to be more aggressive in their own rollout plans.

Today, 1.4m homes and businesses (60pc of premises) across Ireland, can access high-speed broadband on Eir’s network. This will rise to 1.6m, or 70pc of the country by June of this year, and will reach 1.9m premises (80pc of all homes and businesses) after that.

Eir said it has commenced the rollout of high-speed broadband to the additional 300,000 homes and businesses in the broadband-deprived areas of rural Ireland and aims to complete the first 100,000 by the end of this year.

Eir also plans to connect at least 100,000 of the homes in broadband-deprived areas to 1Gbps services by March 2017, creating a situation where rural areas could eventually surpass urban areas for broadband speeds.

First 1Gbps rural towns are getting connected

Lennon told that Eir has commenced connecting the first rural locations out of the 100,000 to get 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home (FTTH).

She said the decision to connect rural homes to FTTH was evolutionary.

“The majority of the 1.6m homes are fibre-to-the-cabinet, but as we went further out and mapped the country for the National Broadband Plan and looked at all the ribbon developments it became hard to group them. We learned that as we had to take fibre to the houses at the end of the road it made sense to go into the homes as we passed them and, as we went further out, FTTH made sense.”

When Eir revealed it planned to go into the 300,000 homes in the intervention area, Lennon admits the news was met with some scepticism, but she said the rollout has begun.

‘We are rolling fibre out faster in rural areas than AT&T in the US, BT in the UK and Deutsche Telekom in Germany’

“If you look around the country you will see guys trimming trees and putting fibre out there. We have the boots on the streets.”

She said she believed that the 300,000 extra premises that Eir is targeting could help reduce the State’s overall requirement for aid and added that ultimately she believes the National Broadband Plan will be a success.

“We think they are ambitious, and rightly so.”

She said that the spur for the extra 300,000 premises was the speed at which Eir’s first 1.6m homes were being served.

“The rollout was going better than expected and we were able to deploy fibre further for less. By our estimates, we are rolling fibre out faster in rural areas than AT&T in the US, BT in the UK and Deutsche Telekom in Germany. We were slow to get going but when we got moving we picked up pace and when we saw an opportunity to extend our plans we took it.”

300,000 homes in broadband-deprived areas still on schedule to get fibre

Lennon said that Eir will be competing for all of the National Broadband Plan rollout, and still aims to continue with its own 300,000-home rollout in deprived areas.

“We believe that this will reduce the overall footprint for intervention by the State from 750,000 to 450,000. We see it as our money, our risk.”

She said that one of the key learnings of the rollout so far has been how much easier and cheaper it is to connect homes and businesses to fibre than previously thought.

Lennon emphasised that the fibre network that Eir is building is an open network for other operators to connect to.

“We’re a regulated business and one of the key aspects of the National Broadband Plan is that it has to be a wholesale play. There’s no business case for building two networks side-by-side.

“The reason we are doing this is because there are parts of the country that don’t have great broadband because up until now there was no commercial case. Consumers deserve choice and open access makes this possible.”

Lennon said any delay to the National Broadband Plan is not in Eir’s interests.

“I really hope that everyone in Ireland has access to high-speed broadband by 2020, if that happens and the solution is fibre, which it should be, rural Ireland will leapfrog the rest of the world in terms of their position in broadband access and speeds.

“We are very ambitious for the National Broadband Plan, we will be bidding for all of it. It is broken into two lots but we will be bidding for the whole lot plus the individual lots. We think we are extremely well positioned because of our track record in rolling broadband out.

“We are rolling broadband out faster than AT&T in the US, BT in the UK, Deutsche Telekom in Germany and the guys who are doing it for us, our engineers, know Ireland and its infrastructure better than anybody else. We are very ambitious of the government’s initiative.

“Pushing it out to 2022 would be an awful shame. It doesn’t suit us at all because our train has very firmly left the station and we want to keep that momentum going.”

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