Back on track? 1Gbps bid for €1bn National Broadband Plan submitted

19 Sep 2018

Image: Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

National Broadband Plan bid includes ambitious proposal for 1Gbps broadband to every home, farm and business in rural Ireland.

The final bid for the tender for the National Broadband Plan (NBP) to serve high-speed broadband to 540,000 homes and businesses in rural Ireland has been submitted by a consortium named National Broadband Ireland.

The Granahan McCourt-led consortium consists of Denis O’Brien’s engineering services firm, Actavo, as well as Enet, tech giant Nokia, Kelly Group and KN Group.

‘Much has been said about the 30Mbps target set by the NBP, but the network we intend to build is a gigabit network, capable of delivering 1,000Mbps’

Enet was the last bidder left in the race after Siro (ESB and Vodafone) pulled out almost a year ago and Eir left the bidding table earlier this year.

Can NBP plug rural Ireland into the 21st century?

In July, SSE sensationally pulled out of the plan, abandoning its role in the consortium it joined with David McCourt’s Enet, potentially casting the NBP into further disarray and prompting questions of whether it was the end of the line for the plan.

However, the revitalised consortium with Enet appears to be very much in the race, having lodged commercial, financial, legal as well as technical solutions to deliver 1Gbps broadband to “every home, farm and business in the intervention area”. To complement the physical build, the company said it will have long-term access to Open Eir’s 1.2m rural pole infrastructure, as well as its duct network.

McCourt said that National Broadband Ireland’s partners for the construction phase of the project are all established organisations that have immense national and international experience in telecommunications infrastructure deployment. He reiterated that the consortium and its partners have the expertise to coordinate and finance all elements required to deliver a project of the size and complexity of the NBP. “We have assembled a world-class team with financial resources, unrivalled construction expertise and proven experience of operational capabilities to deliver this project for the Irish Government and for the citizens in rural Ireland.”

McCourt cited his experience as a senior leader, CEO and board member at some of the world’s biggest telecoms firms, including Level 3 Communications and MCI WorldCom. “Throughout my career, the businesses I have been involved with have serially improved connectivity in technologically underserved regions of the world and have pioneered the roll-out of telecom networks of substantial scale. We know this experience will prove to be crucial for the NBP and that’s why I can be so confident in our ability to coordinate all the elements required to finance and deliver a project of this size and complexity.

“The consortium is committed to the project’s success from a policy and a commercial perspective, and we look forward – subject to being awarded the contract – to delivering world-class, high-speed broadband to every home, farm and business in the intervention area,” added McCourt.

Who needs 30Mbps when you can get 1Gbps?

The interesting thing about the new bid is the ambition to go beyond the initial 30Mbps envisaged in the original NBP to 1Gbps speeds, which would put rural premises in Ireland ahead of some of Europe’s most advanced economies.

But can it be done or is it a pipe dream?

“We know this is a project of scale and complexity so, when selecting construction partners, it was important that they have specific expertise and track record in terms of delivering similar projects,” said Peter Hendrick, National Broadband Ireland’s bid director. “Also, I can confirm that Nokia has been selected as a key supplier and will play a critical role with the provision, installation, integration and commissioning of active equipment or the electronics that drives the bandwidth.

“Much has been said about the 30Mbps target set by the NBP, but the network we intend to build is a gigabit network, capable of delivering 1,000Mbps.”

Updated, 3.09pm, 27 November 2018: This article was amended to clarify that the consortium is led by Granahan McCourt, with Enet as one of the partners.

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