Ireland’s digital future evolves as UPC nears 120Mbps broadband

8 Dec 2009

Cable operator UPC yesterday confirmed it has so far invested US$1 billion in Ireland – of which US$400 million went into its network upgrade. As the company revealed new services of up to 30Mbps, it said its capital spend in 2010 will reach US$90 million.

UPC Ireland sales and marketing director Mark Coan confirmed that the company is providing 30Mbps on the existing DOCSIS 2.0 infrastructure but as DOCSIS 3.0 infrastructure is deployed, services with speeds as high as 120Mbps will be available as early as August next year.

Price points

The company yesterday revealed three new speeds and price points – a 30Mbps service that will cost €42 per month, a 15Mbps service that will cost €32 per month and a 5Mbps service that will cost €22 per month.

Coan revealed that the company is seeing a strong appetite in the market for speeds above and beyond 10Mbps. “Eighty per cent of our users take TV services, as well. Out of our total broadband base, 60pc of people are taking speeds of 10Mbps and 20Mbps.”

Coan said that UPC’s parent, Liberty Global, is taking big bets on the digital world, where today some 1.6 billion people are online. Globally, 48pc of the world’s internet users use broadband, including 43pc of the EU population. By comparison, radio took 38 years to reach a mass audience of 50 million, TV took 13 years, and Facebook only took a couple of months to reach 50 million.

“Generation Y will outnumber the baby boomers and 98pc of them are already on a social network.”

What Charles said

Coan quoted 16-year-old Charles Joseph McDonnell, the young man behind the phenomenon Charlieissocoolike – a YouTube channel that has attracted 6 million views already. “I find it interesting that people still think the online world and the real world are different things.”

“Generation Y are continuously driving the digital tsunami and networks are going to be hard-pressed to keep up with the demand for bandwidth for gaming, music and videos.”

Coan said that soon connection speeds of 25Mbps and above will be commonplace in four years. “By that stage, 30pc of all broadband connections to the home will be 25Mbps and above.

“Speeds like 1Mbps to 2Mbps are now only good enough for shopping and email. The real business will be about providing application bandwidth to support HDTV, video on demand and high-quality user-generated content. We predict that soon DSL via copper will run out of road. The next few years will see greater demand for 50Mbps to 100Mbps services.

“We see cable as being a good position to meet this demand.”

What subscribers have

Coan said that according to UPC’s analysis of the broadband market, 52pc of subscribers are currently above 2Mbps and 10pc are above 5Mbps. “There is an enormous delta of difference between Ireland and the UK.”

He said that across Europe, cable grew by 11,000 subscribers in Q3 of this year compared to DSL, which grew by 6,729 subscribers.

“A quarter of all homes passed by UPC take cable broadband and 60pc of all broadband cable customers are taking 10Mbps and above.”

Coan described Galway city as a window to Ireland’s digital future, where broadband penetration is 50pc higher than the national average and four out of five homes take cable broadband. “Two out of every five homes in Galway take 10Mbps and above.”

Fibre Power

Concentrating on UPC’s Fibre Power next-generation service, which sees fibre reach as far as the cabinet and led by coaxial cable directly into homes and businesses on average about 300 metres from every premises, Coan said one-third of homes in Ireland will be upgraded to Fibre Power.

“Seventy-one per cent of homes in Dublin are already upgraded to Fibre Power. Fifty per cent of Irish homes will be upgraded to Fibre Power by 2011. We are reaching a tipping point and a critical mass and we intend to focus more on the platform differences between cable and DSL, which we believe will run out of road.”

UPC Ireland CEO Robert Dunn said that compared with other markets where higher speeds are available, Ireland is behind the curve. “But that demand will grow and people will demand higher bandwidth services to keep up with applications. Video on demand is on our roadmap. We see generational factors that are driving that extra demand.”

Dunn said that 30Mbps is the limit on existing DOCSIS 2.0 infrastructure and that the move to DOCSIS 3.0 is occurring in core places in the network. “We tend to be reactive. If people want to upgrade to the higher speeds we do it that way.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: UPC Ireland sales and marketing director Mark Coan.

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