Now that Eircom’s VDSL network is live, alternative operators get ready to pounce

17 May 2013

So Eircom’s had its big day and has gone live with the first phase of its fibre network which will serve about 300,000 homes. From Monday, other licensed operators will launch services based on the new network, which promises speeds of up to 70Mbps.

So the dust has settled a little and we may hope that a new era in broadband provision will begin in Ireland, whereby the kind of speeds that are taken for granted in most civilised countries will be available in more places in Ireland than simply large towns and cities.

Eircom’s fibre plan involves an investment of more than €1bn and will in turn enable other operators to use the network to sell services to consumers and businesses.

The first phase, which went live yesterday, will serve about 300,000 homes, rising to 1.2m homes by the end of 2014.

Eircom’s eFibre will offer download speeds of up to 70Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps. The service will start at €40 for consumers and €24.79 for businesses. Eircom yesterday began taking orders from customers in areas where the next-generation broadband services are available.

Fibre-powered broadband speeds are available to 300,000 homes and businesses in Clare, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Sligo, Wexford and Wicklow. 

However, this will still leave large swathes of the country – about 400,000 homes – that won’t be served by fibre services at the end of 2014 and this is where the Government will need to deliver on its promise to have a minimum of 30Mbps services available to all homes and citizens by 2015 and meet EU Digital Agenda targets set for 2020.

Platform competition becomes a reality in Ireland

In the meantime, you could say that Ireland is finally about to get a taste of 21st-century style broadband competition their counterparts in most European, North American and Asian countries have enjoyed for a number of years already.

Operators who up until now provided DSL services based on their own unbundled exchanges (LLU) and the resale of services off Eircom’s network (bitstream) will be able to compete in some way with UPC, which as a cable broadband provider has been able to ramp up speeds as high as 150Mbps.

UPC recently revealed that 41pc of homes in Ireland (1.65m homes) can receive speeds up to 150Mbps.

What the other operators will be offering

The new broadband services from Eircom can best be described as fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), which means the fibre goes all the way to the street level with the last part of the journey of data from the cabinet to the home being by copper wire.

One of the original investors in LLU was BT, which exited the consumer broadband market a few years ago after forging an agreement with Vodafone which took over the DSL business.

The company works with other operators in the market on the infrastructure level and has been urging the Government to pursue the gap-funded model that has made Northern Ireland the most fibre-dense region of Europe, ahead of Germany, France and the UK.

A spokesperson said it will be offering services based on access to Eircom’s new fibre network following careful testing.

“BT is planning to launch this product to our wholesale and business customers, subject to the completion of a successful trial to ensure this product is fit-for-purpose for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

Vodafone, for its part, will go live on Monday with new fibre-powered services where users will be able to choose standalone fibre-powered broadband or a combination of phone line and broadband packages. Packages will start from €30 per month and will come with speeds of up to 70Mbps.

Vodafone Ireland consumer director Marcel de Groot said customers will be able to upgrade from Monday at no extra cost and that various discounts will apply for new and existing customers.

Packages start at €30 for 20GB broadband usage at speeds of up to 70Mbps, €35 for unlimited broadband usage and speeds up to 70Mbps and broadband packages with mobile, landline and international calls starting at €40 rising to €47.50 and €55.

“Customers can now choose from a range of new fibre-powered broadband packages,” de Groot said.

“You only pay for what you need and most packages come with unlimited broadband usage. Keeping the plans simple allows the customer to be in control, choosing a plan that fits their needs without compromising on quality or speed.”

Magnet will begin offering its new Fatpipe broadband services, which also provides up to 70Mbps services, to an initial 250,000 homes with a further 250,000 homes that will be passed later this summer.

As well as the VDSL services, Magnet also offers pure fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services to around 28,000 homes that can get up to 100Mbps speeds.

The advent of FTTC competition from Monday has been welcomed by Magnet CEO Mark Kellett.

“Magnet fully embraces Eircom’s national network upgrade. It’s a really positive step for the Irish broadband market as it will offer a more consistent, reliable and high quality network to a greater percentage of the population.

“For Magnet, the upgrade extends our reach and allows us to provide a high quality service of ‘fibre all the way’ to more consumers and businesses nationwide – close to 80pc of homes in Ireland by the time it’s finished in 2014.

“Magnet is currently the only alternative telco offering services on Eircom’s fibre pilot in Sandyford, Dundrum and Wexford. We’ve been engaged from the outset in the development of this service and leveraging the experience we’ve gained in deploying fibre networks in Ireland and the UK,” Kellett said.

Other operators, including Digiweb, Sky, Imagine and others are likely to reveal their bundles and packages in the coming days as platform competition based on fibre networks finally becomes a reality in Ireland.

Broadband image via Shutterstock

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