NTL nearing 130,000 broadband-ready homes

11 Jul 2005

Cable operator NTL has told siliconrepublic.com that the company is within reach of hitting 130,000 homes in Dublin, Galway and Waterford capable of receiving its broadband services. The company also revealed that it is about to conclude a tender process for personal video recorder (PVR) set-top boxes, and may select two manufacturers.

NTL Ireland sales and marketing director Mark Mohan (pictured) confirmed that some 13,000 NTL customers are paying for its broadband services – an increase of 9,000 on last year. “We are pleased with this progress, which effectively gives us 10pc penetration of our available market for broadband.”

In April, the company increased the speeds of its broadband services by over 100pc. Under the enhancement, services that were previously 300Kbps are now 1Mbps for €25 a month. As well as this services that were 750Kbps will be expanded to 2Mbps for €35 a month and services that were originally 1.5Mbps will be doubled to 3Mbps for €45 per month. “We have the lowest network contention ratio in the marketplace for broadband, with a rate of 17 to one, compared with 40 to one under Eircom’s services,” Mohan said.

Mohan confirmed that the company is moving to upgrade its network to be capable of carrying digital telephony as well as broadband and digital TV. “The intention is to roll out the full triple-play package and we have placed a priority on this.

“In terms of digital telephony, we are planning to conduct trials in the near future. The product that we are developing sits nicely on top of our broadband infrastructure.”

Mohan explained that while 100,000 of the company’s Dublin customer base will be enabled for broadband, it is planning to make its complete customer bases in Galway and Waterford capable of receiving broadband.

In May, European cable giant UGC – which also owns Chorus – emerged as the potential owner of NTL’s Irish operations. Morgan Stanley, operating on UGC’s behalf, acquired NTL Ireland for €325m. UGC has since stated it intends to acquire NTL Ireland from Morgan Stanley for €329m, which includes a €4m administrative charge, pending approval from the Competition Authority of Ireland.

It is believed that key to UGC’s success as a bidder for NTL Ireland was its capacity to invest a further €200m in NTL’s infrastructure.

While Mohan didn’t discuss the acquisition, he gave an insight into what an upgrade of NTL’s existing infrastructure could involve.

“The existing standard for cable in Ireland is DOCSIS 1.0. We are planning to conduct trials on DOCSIS 2.0 and will deploy it if it passes the trial stage. DOCSIS will enable us to launch the extreme broadband products deployed over cable in Holland and Austria – speeds ranging from 10Mb per second up to 30Mb per second – that’s the truly phenomenal territory we are heading into. We see a great future in terms of what cable can do for broadband speeds.”

Mohan said that in the months ahead, NTL Ireland will be striving to boost its existing digital television offerings by adding extra channels and rolling out PVR technology with hard drives in the range of around 80Gb-plus. “We are in the concluding stages of a tendering process and hope to announce at least two partners. The PVRs will have substantial storage and will include a brand new set-top box for customers who want to avail of digital video recording.”

According to analyst firm In-Stat, unprecedented consumer demand has pushed sales of PVR products tremendously during the past year, with global unit shipments rocketing from 4.6 million in 2003 to over 11.4 million in 2004.

In-Stat says the demand stems from increased consumer awareness about the concept of time-shifting television programming. Pay-TV service providers and PVR manufacturers are reaping the benefits, the high-tech research firm reports.

“The deployment of PVR products has been a success story for pay-TV providers and consumer electronics manufacturers,” said In-Stat analyst Mike Paxton. “While the current growth of PVRs is being spurred by satellite TV set-top box products and DVD recorders with built-in hard disk drives, other product segments like cable TV set-top box-based PVRs are also flying off the shelves.”

By John Kennedy