Ireland falls behind Europe in DSL rollout


10 Jan 2005

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With DSL accounting for 5pc of total lines in the country, Ireland is in the bottom tier of European countries in the rollout of DSL, according to a report by the European Competitive Telecoms Association (ECTA). The report indicates that local-loop unbundling (LLU) rates in Ireland are also among the lowest in Europe.

DSL penetration of 5pc in Ireland compares harshly with other countries such as the UK where DSL accounts for 12pc of total lines, the Netherlands at 22pc, Belgium at 22pc and Denmark at 28pc.

ECTA’s data, which presents a EU broadband scorecard for the end of September, indicates that only 84,752 DSL lines exist in the country, compared with 3.4 million in the UK, 1.6 million in the Netherlands, 5.2 million in France and 5.9 million in Germany. The full table can be accessed at www.ectaportal.com/uploads/BroadbandScorecardQ32004.xls

ECTA’s data may, however, clash with recent claims by Eircom in December that Ireland had 102,000 DSL lines; a possible indication that the rollout is continuing apace.

According to the ECTA table, some 82,837 lines out of a total of 84,752 in the country are owned by the incumbent operator, Eircom. Reading between the lines this indicates that LLU is not happening quick enough if the remaining lines are owned by competitors such as Esat BT. The table showed a disastrous LLU situation whereby only some 313 lines have actually been bundled, putting Ireland near the bottom of the LLU stakes. In Italy, ECTA claims, some 756,452 lines have been unbundled and in Germany some 1.7 million lines have been unbundled. The only countries not to have unbundled their local loops are Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia. Hungary, the next country below Ireland in the LLU stakes, has only two lines unbundled.

In terms of the variety of broadband connectivity types available, only 6,822 lines in Ireland are cable broadband, with other types of broadband connectivity available such as wireless and leased line accounting for 7,263. Total broadband numbers for Ireland, ECTA estimates, amount to 98,837, compared with 3.9 million in Italy, 5.2 million in the UK, 5.6 million in France and 6.1 million in Germany.

According to ECTA, across Europe, DSL continues its lead over cable and other high-speed offers, comprising 79pc of all broadband connections. This, it says, reflects growth in bitstream access and in some countries the rapid uptake of LLU-based connections in 2004. ECTA reckons that 77pc of all DSL connections across Europe that are provisioned by incumbents are also retailed by incumbents or an affiliated subsidiary. In Germany, the incumbent Deutsche Telekom still retails nine out of 10 of all broadband connections.

For the EU as a whole, ECTA says broadband usage had increased by 50pc in the first three quarters of 2003 to 33 million in the last quarter of 2004, as consumers have responded to the steadily growing choice of offerings available from entrants in the market.

Hungary boasts the largest total number of broadband connections among the new member states, but Estonia has the highest rate of penetration. In several member states cable and other networks play a substantial role in the market, and it will be interesting to track whether the incumbent DSL services will subsequently emerge as dominant as they are doing in the rest of the EU.

In terms of the low rate of DSL rollout in Ireland and the slow rate of LLU, Iarla Flynn (pictured) of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators believes the country has performed appallingly compared with other developed countries in Europe. “It’s not a pretty picture,” he told siliconrepublic.com. “The Eastern European countries have jumped ahead of Ireland and we very much in the bottom tier. This is not a good sign for a country that once laid claim to be the e-commerce hub for Europe.”

Flynn said he was heartened, however, by some of the findings in the ECTA data. He said that the scorecard shows that Ireland’s broadband rollout grew 55pc in the past quarter, which is highest in Europe and well beyond the European average of 14pc; indicating that stringent efforts are being made to address Ireland’s broadband woes.

By John Kennedy