Eircom urged to copper-fasten existing network

12 Mar 2007

Operators have called on Eircom to resolve problems around Ireland’s existing copper network in the towns and regions, which is understood to be in a poor state of repair, before embarking on its plans to invest in a fibre-based next-generation network.

Operators speaking to siliconrepublic.com have warned that the network is in a bad state of repair, crippled by under-investment and dogged by capacity issues.

“The core problem of the last mile hasn’t gone away in cities, towns and regions of Ireland and from what we understand the next-generation network (NGN) will initially focus on Dublin where Eircom wants to compete with UPC,” explained BT Ireland chief operating officer Mike Maloney.

“But for the rest of the country the copper network is in a huge state of disrepair and it means that if you can’t get broadband today, unless something is done to fix the copper network you won’t be getting broadband any time soon,” Maloney warned.

He estimated that it could cost €200m to €300m to fix the copper network and that it was vital this was done before investment begins in the NGN.

“All we are saying is the copper network should be brought up to speed, then they should put their money into NGN. That means the exchange infrastructure will be in good order and they can go about delivering a superior service to all customers in the country.

“The current direction Eircom is heading in means that Ireland will have an enormous infrastructural imbalance that can only mean a digital divide between Dublin and the rest of the country,” Maloney warned.

The news of the NGN investment was welcomed by Tim Murphy of up-and-coming data services company Strencom, which began life in 2000 as a regional internet service provider and has expanded to being an all-Ireland data centre and connectivity player with a customer base in the UK.

“Long term it is a good idea; it will be great to have higher bandwidth and offer 25MB services,” says Murphy. “However, the issues they need to address first are the capacity issues affecting exchanges, and I don’t just mean the 20pc of exchanges in rural areas not served with broadband, but large exchanges in Ireland’s cities and towns where we can’t connect customers.

“We estimate that 30pc of our customers are failing tests for broadband connections because of capacity.

“In the longer term NGNs will solve that problem but it’s going to take two and a half years. Unfortunately we are in the here and now. The market for broadband is finite and probably has an 18-20 month lifecycle left in it at the moment. In 20 months the market is going to be saturated.

“The problem is down to capacity on the actual DSLAMs (Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers) themselves. There aren’t enough connections for the lines to connect into. If you’re connected to one of these exchanges and order broadband, you might be waiting a long time.”

One operator that has pulled back on its consumer LLU (local loop unbundling) activity due to the high cost issues associated with deploying broadband in Ireland is Magnet Networks.

The company’s new chief executive Vern Kennedy said that Eircom’s announcement last week regarding inter-carrier migrations does little to really advance competition in the Irish telecoms market.

Kennedy said: “Agreeing to do only part of what they’re been required by law to do for many years and expecting to be rewarded for it is no different than a spoiled child expecting an extra helping of dessert when they make their bed but leave their room a mess.

“If Eircom were truly committed to a competitive market they would immediately take action, not just issue press releases, to allow for all migrations (inter and intra carrier) and they would address their wholesale rate structure that is orders of magnitude out of line with the rest of the western world,” Kennedy said.

By John Kennedy