Ireland will pass the 800,000 broadband subscriber threshold this Christmas, John Doherty, a commissioner with the Commission for Communications Regulation, told siliconrepublic.com.
Doherty revealed that out of this around 100,000 subscribers will be using HSDPA (high-speed data packet access) mobile broadband services from providers O2, Vodafone and 3.
“It is really beginning to take off. Especially on the mobile side – our nation’s love of the mobile phone is very strong. We’ve a young population that is very adaptable when it comes to technology and we’re seeing strong competition and choice in the market.
“Vodafone’s acquisition of Perlico shows that large mobile companies are keen to enter the fixed-line space and O2 has stated its intent to go in this direction also. Broadband is moving to a point where we’re going to swiftly catch up with the European average. Key to this is choice in terms of wireless, fixed line, cable and all other forms of broadband access.”
Doherty agrees valuable time may have been lost as a result of skirmishing over local loop unbundling (LLU).
“But the industry has got its act together and a lot of things are coming into play. The Irish telecoms customer can look forward to an application-rich environment enabled by higher speeds. The next piece in the puzzle is preparing the market for the onset of next-generation networks (NGNs).”
Doherty describes NGN as a euphemism for a much more detailed set of work that has to be carried out before Irish telecoms customers can enjoy future services.
“The first piece to this is the NGN core – that is the transport level that aggregates data and moves IP traffic. Telecom operators view this as a way of reducing operational costs – BT for example will save €1bn a year as a result of deploying its 21st Century Network (21CN). This will come about because there will be fewer exchanges compared with the traditional system.
“This will drive a range of products that include everything from IPTV to video-on-demand and high-definition TV over internet on connections that are beyond 10Mpbs. It is an exciting business paradigm that is moving in an unstoppable way.”
However, Doherty warned that one aspect of the NGN debate yet to be debated is the different economies of scale the new networks will create, and he underlined the need for open debate to ensure a fair competitive landscape for everyone.
“The key hurdle here will be the economics of the industry. A traditional exchange is likely to be serving 20,000 homes. However, a NGN cabinet on the kerb may only be able to serve 1,000 homes. That changes the economics substantially for an alternative operator. It will need to win a major share of those homes in order to get its economics to tally.
“The fundamental challenge for ComReg is to ensure that there is no disruption to customers and that they can all benefit from enhanced services. And at the same time ensure that alternative operators can offer products and services on an equal basis.”
He agrees the NGN debate creates a tantalising opportunity for the market to put behind it the trauma of LLU. “It is an opportunity to not only catch up but to also lead. But in order to do so it requires all sides co-operating and being transparent.”
By John Kennedy