Business customers are well served when it comes to their broadband options. But this wasn’t always the case.
There is now a range of providers, sometimes using different means of connection — anything from the traditional phone line to dedicated networks, cable links or even the mobile phone infrastructure — serving Ireland’s business users.
Even better news for those with an eye on the purse strings is that the Irish market is very price-competitive, according to industry observers.
Five years ago a typical business broadband service cost around 110 for 512Kbps download, 128Kbps upload. Fast forward to 2007 and average speeds have risen sixfold while monthly charges have come down considerably. That’s due in no small part to greater competition.
“There’s terrific choice in the market: no one player has more than 50pc share,” says Alan Brown (pictured), director of broadband and internet with Eircom.
So what’s the first step to finding out your options? The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources maintains a website listing all ISPs in Ireland, which can be found at broadband.gov.ie.
There’s also an independent price comparison guide and county-by-county information on www.getbroadband.ie.
The incumbent telecoms provider Eircom offers several high speed services — 3, 4 or 6Mbps — specifically for business customers. According to Brown, many small firms still use the 1 or 2Mbps services.
It doesn’t necessarily follow that an e-commerce site, for example, needs to have the highest capacity connection. “It depends on the volume of hits,” he points out, adding that credit-card transactions are not usually bandwidth-intensive.
A full range of Eircom’s pricing structure can be found by going to www.eircom.ie/business and clicking on the broadband link. By ordering online, companies may get a free connection as well as a free wireless modem.
Magnet Business provides broadband over its own network in the major urban centres, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Portlaoise, at a range of connection rates: 3, 4, 6, 8 and 10Mbps. Donal Hanrahan, sales and marketing director with Magnet Business, believes Irish firms’ appetite for speed is very apparent.
“Before launching the 10Mbps service, most sales were for the 4 or 8Mbps product. Since we brought out the 10Mbps service, very few people ask for 8.”
UPC, the parent company of the cable group NTL and Chorus, is making plans to enter the SME broadband market with an offering that will be available either as a package or as a stand-alone service. “We are presently trialling and are planning to launch as targeted during Q3,” confirms Sarah Shearman, channel manager at UPC Business.
The first phase of the service for SMEs will be services with connections of up to 6Mbps, although these speeds will be increased for the second phase of the launch, Shearman confirms. “During phase one we will introduce value-added services such as network storage and secure email,” she adds.
The packages will be available to buy through channel partners of UPC.
Another recent entrant to the broadband fray is the mobile provider O2, which launched a service earlier this month over its own mobile network.
The obvious advantage is that having such a connection no longer ties the user to their office, as it can be accessed in the same way as mobile phones are no longer location-dependent.
O2 Broadband uses HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) technology and currently offers 75pc population coverage at launch.
The company believes its 3.6Mbps service offers a viable alternative to fixed broadband in the home. As such it’s pitched primarily at managers or staff who spend some of their time working outside the office.
The service has a three-month introductory price of €15 per month for existing O2 billpay mobile customers or €20 for all other customers.
With so many other business costs spiralling upwards, Irish firms can at least be grateful that such activity in the broadband market should keep things competitive for some time to come.
By Gordon Smith