The European Commission has given the green light to the €450 million joint venture between Vodafone and Irish power utility company ESB to roll out fibre-to-the-home with speeds up to 1 Gbps.
Just a week later, Irish incumbent eircom responded by saying that it would increase broadband speeds on its fibre broadband network to 1 Gbps in 66 communities across the country.
The deal between Vodafone and ESB had been announced back in July. The partners plan to use electricity infrastructure – including overhead cables and underground duct in housing estates – to deploy fibre directly into homes and businesses. The initial roll out targets 500,000 premises across 50 towns. It’s a novel deployment method that ESB claims will be a first in Europe.
Critics say that eircom’s announcement amounts to no more than “fibre to the press release”, as the incumbent tries to fend off the challenge from a new competitor. But while the timing is clearly more than just coincidence, it looks like both parties have been preparing for this battle for some time.
ESB began a tender process in September 2012 to find a partner in a joint venture company to deploy a fibre-to-the-building network. Vodafone emerged as the preferred bidder for the project in September 2013, when both companies entered exclusive negotiations. Now that the EU has given the green light to the deal, the joint venture can be legally created. Some 60 people will be employed by the new company. The roll-out will start early in 2015 and take three years, with the option to extend into a second phase.
eircom started investigating the potential for FTTH in 2011, when it trialled and deployed FTTH technology in both urban and suburban environments in Wexford Town and Sandyford, Co Dublin. The operator hasn’t talked much about FTTH since then – instead focusing on its fibre-to–the-node (FTTN) network roll-out, which now reaches over 1 million premises – but you can be sure the company has been keeping the situation under review.
This month, eircom will commence work to connect subscribers with FTTH in three locations – Cavan Town, Kilkenny City and Letterkenny Town – with construction in each location expected to take about six months. The planned footprint of the roll-out includes areas in all five major cities, major regional centres and every county town in Ireland. Detailed rollout plans for each community will be announced in due course, the operator says.
Separately, eircom has started a construction trial to assess the most cost effective way to roll out FTTH in rural Ireland and address the challenges of ribbon development. The trial will cover 156 homes, two schools and one community centre in the town of Belcarra, County Mayo.
By Pauline Rigby