The year in comms – the arrival of 4G and superfast broadband is imminent

24 Dec 2012

The year 2012 has been a pivotal year in the development of the telecoms industry in Ireland as the first of the various superfast broadband services began to debut in the market and the first 4G licences were awarded to four telcos, paving the way for fast LTE-based wireless broadband services.

January – trouble on the horizon for ISPs

The year in communications in 2012 began on a grim note and hinted at turbulence for the months ahead. The year began with reports suggesting the big four record labels were considering suing the Irish Government over its alleged failure to stop illegal music downloads and for not implementing a statutory instrument that would give record companies the right to right to seek injunctions against ISPs.

Despite the Government promising a statutory instrument is on the way, the slow rate of progress has been slow.

It emerged late last year that statutory instruments were being prepared in Ireland that would have given judges the power to grant injunctions against ISPs in relation to copyright infringement cases.

This is believed to have been in response to the outcome of UPC Communications Ireland Limited’s High Court victory in October 2010 in its opposition to the “three strikes” rule sought by Warner Music, Universal Music, Sony BMG and EMI Records aimed at illegal downloading and file sharing via the internet.

February – BT plots superfast broadband future

The subject of superfast broadband (which will no doubt dominate 2013) began to be discussed in earnest in February, when BT revealed it will soon be able to offer end users speeds of up to 300Mbps anywhere on BT’s fibre footprint, including Northern Ireland.

The company held successful trials of ‘FTTP on demand’ in St Agnes, Cornwall. This solution allows additional fibre to be run on demand to a home or business in a Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)-enabled area, providing the customer with ultra-fast Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) broadband.

March – 80pc of Northern Ireland connects to superfast broadband

It emerged in March that some 88 new vehicles being launched by Bus Éireann as part of a €30m upgrade will come equipped with Wi-Fi.

Selected seats on the buses have power sockets ISOFIX attachment points for child safety.

The new buses are calculated to attract a new type of commuter.

“With free Wi-Fi, power sockets and extra comfort seating, they are sure to be a hit with customers and attract new users,” said Andrew McLindon, PR manager, Bus Éireann.

Strencom contracts

Cork-based internet service and cloud provider Strencom signed contracts valued at more than €300,000 to connect Cork, Monaghan and Roscommon county councils to the Government Data Network.

The Government Data network links together all public bodies in Ireland. The Strencom rollout provided the councils with a 20-fold increase in bandwidth.

Northern Ireland becoming fibre-enabled

At the end of March, 89pc of lines in Northern Ireland were connected to a fibre-enabled street cabinet.

Current speeds in Northern Ireland are up to 80Mbps and in the UK, BT is looking further at speeds of up to 300Mbps.

April – HD Voice arrives in Ireland

Eircom revealed the locations for Phase 2 of its fibre rollout in Ireland.

Last year, Eircom committed to a €100m Phase 1 plan to reach 1m households with fibre broadband over the next four years.

Phase 2 includes 13 communities in eight counties across Ireland. Work is expected to commence late this summer and will continue through to the end of 2012.

HD Voice services launch

Vodafone Ireland  launched HD Voice services, offering higher quality audio calling across the Vodafone 3G network.

It minimises background noise, aiming to make the speaker easier to hear.

It also aims to make it easier to make and receive calls in noisy environments and to make it easier to identify individual voices during conference calls.

May – could Wi-Fi save the Irish pub from extinction?

One of the unexpected casualties of the recession in Ireland has been the good old Irish pub. Once a focal point of community life (for better or worse) these hostelries are struggling and closing as revellers prioritise mortgages and groceries and transfer their socialising to Facebook in the midst of personal economic strain.

But perhaps communications technologies could come to the rescue and save the Irish pub from a watery grave?

A Molson Coors survey revealed perhaps that a simple investment in a broadband connection and a Wi-Fi router would ensure a younger audience who needs to remain wired into their Facebook and Twitter friends would show up and provide customers.

According to the Molson Coors survey, one in three people polled said they’d go to the pub more often if there was free Wi-Fi. Some 51pc of 18 to 24-year-olds definitely want it and some 45pc of 25 to 34-year-olds say the same.

June – Eircom exits examinership

Eircom exited examinership with new capital and shareholders in place. Following the process, ST Telemedia and the Employee Share Ownership Trust are no longer shareholders.

The examinership process removed €1.7bn worth of debt from Eircom’s balance sheet – about 40pc of group debt.

It is now embarking on a five-year business plan which includes a 1m home fibre broadband plan.

July – Sky to enter Irish broadband market

A long overdue shake-up of the Irish broadband market appeared on the horizon with the news that broadcaster Sky plans to offer broadband and telecom services in the Republic of Ireland after the broadcaster struck a wholesale deal with BT Ireland. The move will see employment increase to 900 people at Sky’s operations in Ireland.

The move means thousands of consumers across Ireland will be able to unite their Sky TV services with a range of telecoms and broadband packages from Sky.

The broadcaster will reveal pricing for the new service in the coming months. Sky’s parent company BSkyB posted record profits for the year, up 14pc to stg£1.2bn. Full-year revenues arrived at stg£6.8bn, up 3pc on last year.

August – BT reveals fibre-to-the-cabinet plans

It emerged BT is planning to trial fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband in Dun Laoghaire and a number of semi-urban locations across the Republic of Ireland with a view to deploying 80Mbps VDSL broadband. If the trials, which aim to commence, are successful, BT Ireland will work to secure funding from its parent company to do a widescale rollout.

The move will mean that broadband providers like Sky and Vodafone, who are wholesale customers of BT, will potentially be able to offer 80Mbps services to their customers.

September – UPC doubles entry level broadband speeds

Cable broadband and TV player UPC revealed it was doubling its standard entry-level broadband speeds for new users from 25Mbps to 50Mbps. The company also revealed new 100Mbps and 150Mbps speed packages.

The company also demonstrated the power of its new fibre network, achieving 1.4Gbps download speeds. This included the downloading of a two-hour movie in less than 30 seconds – 15 times faster than the highest speeds on next-generation DSL technology.

Free Wi-Fi at Dublin Airport

Eircom and Dublin Airport Authority began offering free unlimited Wi-Fi at Dublin Airport for all users without registration.

More than 1m passengers passing through the airport have made use of the Eircom WiFiHub service, which was launched in December last year.

October – Wi-Fi to be available on all Dublin buses

In October, the first of a new fleet of 80 new advanced double-decker buses kitted out with the latest wireless and CCTV technologies began rolling onto Dublin’s streets. They are part of a €26m investment aimed at replacing Dublin’s aging city fleet.

Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, TD, recently said free Wi-Fi will be available on almost all public transport services by 2013. Plans to provide Wi-Fi on DART and Dublin commuter rail services will be implemented this autumn, while the 80 new Dublin buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi has also been tested on two Luas trams and is expected to be available across the service before the year is out.

All vehicles are low-floor wheelchair accessible and will ensure that Dublin Bus will have a 100pc accessible fleet by the end of 2012.

November – 4G licences are awarded

ComReg revealed the results of its 4G spectrum auction for Ireland, awarding lots to Hutchison 3G, Meteor, Telefónica (O2) and Vodafone, with fees adding up to €854.6m, out of which €450m will go into the exchequer this year.

The lots include the release of 140MHz of paired spectrum – double the 64.8MHz of paired spectrum currently assigned in these bands.

Meteor, Telefónica and Vodafone were awarded lots in the 800MHz frequency band while Hutchison 3G Ireland, Meteor, Telefónica and Vodafone were all awarded lots in both the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequency bands.

The winning bidders will pay €854.6m for the spectrum rights, including €481.7m in up-front fees along with annual spectrum usage fees totalling €372.9m paid in instalments until July 2030.

The licences will enable the operators to begin building out Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 4G services from early 2013.

December – Eircom outlines its quad play vision

In his first public appearance as CEO of Eircom, Herb Hribar revealed to how Eircom is focused on a quad play future; combining its new fibre and 4G LTE networks with existing strengths in mobile, landline and Wi-Fi.

Hribar said the first services to emerge will be fibre at 50Mbps. “What we’re providing is a well-engineered service of VDSL, we’re employing vectoring and we’d expect to see about 70Mbps over 70pc of the base, it will evolve into that over time. The first services out will be 50Mbps and we have pre-planned upgrades to move with the vectoring technology.”

If Eircom becomes a quadplay provider offering TV along with fixed and wireless broadband and mobile services, it will put it in an interesting competitive space. UPC is already active in terms of TV, broadband and phone services and early next year Sky will enter the broadband market. Right now, 75pc of the TV market in Ireland is served by both Sky and UPC.

“There’s a niche that we see and it’s in between the lower-end digital channels offered to the public today and below where Sky and UPC are competing today. We’ve really profiled the channels that our customers in Ireland are really looking for and we’re acquiring rights to those channels and expect to deliver them at an attractive price point as a complementary service to our broadband offering.

“It will be part of the bundle. It will initially be offered over the fibre products but over time also the capability to deliver that over our mobile products and LTE network.”

More legal action

As expected, the controversial statutory instrument being sought by the record labels had been signed into law, paving the way for the labels to seek injunctions against ISPs.

In December, Irish-based ISPs UPC, Digiweb, Imagine, Vodafone and 3 were hit with a new legal action by big four record labels EMI, Sony, Warner and Universal.

The labels are seeking an injunction compelling the ISPs to block controversial torrent sharing site The Pirate Bay.

Comms image via Shutterstock

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