The Interview: Geoff Shakespeare, Eircom (video)

13 Feb 2015

Geoff Shakespeare, managing director in charge of Technology Evolution and Development at Eircom

The economic and social benefits of fibre-based broadband cannot be underestimated, says Geoff Shakespeare, managing director in charge of Technology Evolution and Development at Eircom.

If you look closely at Eircom’s current broadband rollout in Ireland, where now more than 1.1m homes are passed by 100Mbps broadband, the pride is palpable. Remember this is a company that only three years ago exited examinership and now it is the only telco in Ireland currently providing quad-play services that include TV, broadband, mobile and telephone services.

Eircom has accelerated its initial target of 1.4m homes connected to 100Mbps by the end of 2016 to achieve this by the end of 2015 instead. Not only that but some 66 towns have been included in a plan to connect to 1Gbps services.

Signs that changes are afoot can be seen in the recent decision to create 375 new jobs, including roles for 300 apprentices who will be provided with invaluable skills to build and service next-generation networks, as part of an €18m investment.

As well as this, Eircom will be among a number of telecoms operators that will be competing to take part in the National Broadband Plan to bring fibre to 32pc of premises in Ireland – that’s 600,000 homes and 100,000 businesses – currently not served with broadband.

Masterminding Eircom’s technology evolution is Shakespeare, who believes that the ultimate solution is fibre into every home.

“From an economic point of view, as we move towards a digital economy, clearly you have to have a decent standard of broadband.”

Shakespeare believes this isn’t just about enabling people to work and run businesses from their homes, it is also about stemming the tide of emigration by enabling people to build businesses and if they wish to live and work in their communities.

He agrees with the FCC’s recent decision to redefine broadband as nothing less than 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. “The Government isn’t far away from this in the National Broadband Plan. However, the key is it has to be usable. The key is to ensure that everybody has more than 25Mbps when using it at the same time rather than something that is congested.”

A data explosion

While the National Broadband Plan aims to intervene and serve 32pc of the country currently unserved by broadband, the reality is that almost 70pc of the population is finally benefiting from competition in the broadband market.

This, says Shakespeare, is contributing to an explosion in data consumption. “Media stream consumption is expanding beyond all recognition. The big drivers of volume are YouTube, Netflix and people uploading videos to Facebook.

“We try to minimise the distance that this data has to travel. Before Netflix even began in Ireland we built a Netflix cache on our network so the most commonly viewed movies are served from Ireland rather than elsewhere.

“We also peer with Google so a lot of YouTube traffic goes straight down a pipe to the user.”

He revealed Eircom also caches RTÉ content, which he says is also a big driver of data in Ireland.

Shakespeare revealed that Eircom is future-proofing its network in anticipation of future demand and said each cabinet is equipped with extra fibre to ensure a couple of hundred more homes can be connected using GPON technology.

“(The) 10Gbps GPON enables us to take 32 fibres and serve with 10Gbps of capacity which moves things on dramatically.”

Eircom also uses G.Fast technologies to bring fibre speeds over copper to homes within 30 metres of the cabinet.

“Up until now you used to have to live within 1km of the exchange to get copper-based broadband. Now we can bring fibre to eight homes within 30 metres of a telephone pole.

“From a technology point of view, fibre is the solution and we are looking at GPON and being quite creative about it.”

Shakespeare said Ireland is geographically unique from a broadband perspective outside big cities and towns, with people living in sparse populations or within “ribbon and rural” configurations around a crossroads with a church, pub, school and shop.

“We are spending a lot of time and money to understand the build techniques and we are building a pilot in Ballycarra, Co Mayo, where we are testing these new configurations with a view to putting our best foot forward,” Shakespeare said.

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