Eircom dithers on DSL

31 Oct 2002

Eircom is to launch an affordable DSL service aimed at consumers, but has yet to decide when.

Esat BT’s announcement last week that it is to offer DSL for €50 a month brings the promise of affordable broadband access to consumers and it was widely assumed that Eircom would quickly reply in kind. An Eircom spokesperson was not prepared to comment on the timing of the company’s competitive response but, according to industry sources, an Eircom consumer DSL product is likely to be still “some weeks away” as the company has some technical issues to sort out and will then have to communicate its intentions to the telecoms regulator’s office.

The technical issues are understood to centre on the precise specification of the product. Eircom must decide whether to match the bandwidth of Esat BT’s proposed offering – 256Kbps – or whether to opt for a speed of 512k of higher. Then there is the issue of ‘contention ratio’. Referring to the number of customers using one DSL line, a high contention ratio service, say 50 users per line, is cheaper for the operator to run but results in inconsistent data speeds than a lower contention ratio service of say 25-to-one. The impact on the user is that they may notice the service slowing down at certain times. When Eircom first launched DSL at the start of the year, it said that it would explore higher contention ratio follow-on products, ie consumer DSL services, but as we move towards the year end, these products have yet to appear.

Once the specification is agreed, Eircom is then obliged, as the incumbent carrier, to provide the regulator’s office with full details of the service offering, a process that can take “a considerable length of time” according to the industry sources.

Eircom has now 2,000 DSL customers nationwide compared with Esat BT’s total of less than 200 but the battle between the two operators is expected to heat up over the coming months for the Dublin market, the only place where they currently compete for DSL business.

By Brian Skelly