Ireland’s future rural broadband speeds may leave Europe in the dust

28 Oct 2014

Top telcos’ technical response to the Irish Government’s National Broadband Plan reveals an ambition to surpass proposed EU speeds, and even reach up to 2.5Gbps in rural areas in the coming years.

More than 32 submissions were received by the Department of Communications for its 504-page Stakeholder Consultation on technical aspects of the Government’s €512m plan to deploy broadband to 1,100 villages in areas commercial operators don’t consider viable.

Not only is it looking likely that rural broadband users could one day have better broadband speeds than their city slicker cousins, but the various responses suggest the EU’s Digital Agenda plan to have a minimum of 30Mbps to every home in Europe by 2020 will be left looking antiquated.

A lot has been happening on the fibre front in Ireland in recent days. Yesterday, the European Commission gave ESB the green light to press ahead with its €450m plan to deploy fibre to connect 500,000 premises in 50 towns with up to 1Gbps speeds during its first phase.

And this morning Eircom revealed plans to connect homes and businesses in 66 towns with speeds of up to 1,000Mbps or 1Gbps.

The fibre future: broadband in Ireland up to 2020

Eircom proposes looking at new technologies for fibre-to-the-home or building delivery such as Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON – ITU G.984) that could deliver bandwidth of 2.5Gbps downstream and 1.25Gbps upstream.

GPON is a single point-to-multipoint fibre architecture that can be shared across a small number of users – between 32 and 64 users – and deliver bandwidth of 2.5Gbps.

Eircom also proposes another technology called that could bring full fibre speeds of 1Gbps into the home using the last 250 metres of copper from the cabinet. technology won’t be commercially available until late 2016 although pre-commercial and pre-standardised versions are currently available.

Eircom said it will be conducting a prototype trial of over the coming months to gain more experience.

In its responses, the ESB and Vodafone consortium recommended that rural deployments of fibre be done at a high level of granularity using a post code-based approach to 20 household at a time.

This they said will avoid a “helicopter view” that leaves neighbouring homes with different qualities and speeds.

The joint venture also called for the creation of an end-to-end network that works, including the final mile into a home.

Critically it said: “We note that the EU definition of next-generation access (NGA) as being speeds of 30Mbps and above is becoming rapidly outdated.”

The ESB/Vodafone JV also said it didn’t believe fibre-to-the-cabinet via VDSL can be defined as NGA. “A cabinet could be fibre equipped but still provide access via ADSL. This would not meet the aspirations of the DCENR or the EU Digital Agenda.”

Cable broadband provider UPC said it did not agree that Euro Docsis 2.0 should be defined as “basic broadband” and said an upgrade to Euro Docsis 3.0 would future-proof a fibre network.

Like Vodafone and ESB, UPC said fibre-to-the-cabinet using copper cabling would not be adequate to achieve NGA targets, but this could be achieved by ED 2.0 or ED 3.0 technology.

“Finally, UPC would advocate that it is important than any future investment plans by fixed or mobile network operators (such as ESB/Vodafone JV and LTE providers) are taken into account and need to be considered as out of scope for the purposes of any State-led intervention.”

Digital disrupter image via Shutterstock

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