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UK Could Fall Behind Ireland as Vodafone Rollout 1Gbps FTTB Broadband

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 (9:36 am) - Score 1,309
fibre optic ultrafast broadband uk

According to ComReg, the Irish telecoms regulator, 43% of fixed broadband customers in Ireland receive sub-10Mbps speeds. But all that could change after Vodafone teamed up in a 50:50 Joint Venture with state-owned electricity firm ESB to splash €450m (£358m) on a nationwide roll-out of 1000Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) technology. We can only hope they do the same here.

Under the plan Vodafone and ESB would harness their existing fibre optic cables, which to date have mostly been used for connecting public sector and business premises, and extend their reach by throwing new cabling along ESB’s existing electricity lines and poles, not to mention some of the traditional underground ducting.

The initial aim is to make the FTTP network, offering Internet speeds from 200Mbps to 1000Mbps (Megabits per second), available to 500,000 homes and businesses in 50 towns across the country (this figure seems plausible for the stated level of investment). But longer term there’s also a desire to expand the “fast and cost efficient roll-out” into “every county” in Ireland, which would focus on “reversing” the digital divide between the capital (Dublin) and regional towns.

At present the project, which is still subject to approval by the European Commission (EC), anticipates that its deployment will commence in the “coming months” and the first customers would then start to benefit during early 2015. The initial phase of the deployment should complete by the end of 2018, with plans for a second phase already being considered.

Crucially though the new network will not be closed and Vodafone intends to open access up to all telecoms operators in Ireland on a wholesale basis.

Anne O’Leary, Vodafone Ireland CEO, said:

Vodafone has the best mobile network in Ireland and now this joint venture will bring the best broadband service to Ireland. With the number of devices per household anticipated to almost double over the next four years and more bandwidth-hungry services being developed, this new broadband service will enable a whole range of new services to be offered to Irish customers in the future from entertainment, security, teleworking to web-based gaming or home automation.

Vodafone is delighted to partner with ESB to make Ireland the first European country to roll-out nationwide fibre-to-the-building broadband on electricity infrastructure, making a hyper-connected future a reality for hundreds of thousands of Irish people and businesses.”

Regular readers of ISPreview.co.uk will note that we generally don’t cover non-UK developments, but on this occasion we can’t help but wonder whether what’s happening in Ireland could soon shake-up the United Kingdom’s fixed-line broadband market. Prior to today’s announcement Vodafone had just 200,000 fixed broadband customers in Ireland and, looking purely at their wholesale division, it’s a similar situation in the UK. However the two country’s are very different (Ireland’s population is quite small) and a like-for-like comparison would thus be tricky.

On the other hand Vodafone UK closed their own ‘At Home’ fixed line consumer broadband service in 2011 after failing to make a success of it (here), although they are widely reported to have held discussions with BSkyB (Sky Broadband) about a possible future collaboration (here); the sale of their 45% stake in Verizon Wireless means there’s no shortage of cash to match such an ambition. On the other hand the UK market is already aggressively competitive and as the old saying goes, “once bitten, twice shy“.

But we might not need Vodafone’s fibre to put pressure on the United Kingdom’s old guard, particularly the slower copper-line focused BT, as many of their once smaller rivals are now starting to catch-up. BT’s rivals have seen increased expansion of their fibre optic connectivity, which has been most noticeable since BT itself stepped back from their original plans for a native deployment of 330Mbps FTTP in 2013 (here).

Today Hyperoptic plan to expand the reach of their 1Gbps FTTB service to 500,000 premises in dense urban areas by 2018, while Gigaclear have proposed an aspiration to make their similar FTTP connectivity available to 50,000 premises by the end of 2015. On top of that CityFibre, Sky Broadband and TalkTalk are also getting in on the action in York, with two further cities set to follow (here). Not to mention the efforts by many of their smaller rivals.

Admittedly BT’s ability to harness their existing copper lines to roll-out slower hybrid-fibre (FTTC) connectivity at a faster pace, and with significantly lower cost, will continue to pay dividends for some years to come, but an operator also needs to keep a close on their rivals and be ready for the future, ideally before it happens. BT currently plans to keep pace with demand by upgrading FTTC through Vectoring (reduces interference) and possibly the 30a profile (provided they can stomach the upgrade cost), with G.fast and FTTrN/FTTdp looking like possibilities for the future. But even those may struggle when up against a true fibre optic line.

As it stands today most people don’t strictly “need” a 1Gbps connection, or indeed 100Mbps. In fact the vast majority could do pretty much everything they wanted on a stable 20Mbps line, including 4K streaming (so long as nobody else in your home is doing it at the same time!). But equally we know plenty of people who have been attracted by Virgin Media’s 100Mbps+ packages, even though their actual “need” is considerably lower; marketing, demand and the desire for speed can sometimes overcome practical reality.

Meanwhile Vodafone’s deployment will be made into an arguably more accepting market. But their project also proves that, no matter what method you adopt for your true fibre optic roll-out, it can still take a very long time to reach a modest amount of potential customers. In that sense BT should continue to command the market for some time to come and they also have the financial clout to hold fire for a while in order to see whether the efforts of their rivals will actually amount to a serious threat. The next two years could be very interesting.

Leave a Comment
13 Responses
  1. It may not seem like much relative to the UK however the RoI has a population around 1/14th of that of the UK.

    This is the equivalent of a fibre network passing not that far off ~1/4th of the UK.

    • Avatar bob

      But they also have a much lower population density. It should be cheaper and easier to roll out fibre in the UK

  2. Avatar DTMark

    Does Ireland have a “fibre tax”?

    What might their government’s position be with regard to utilities digging where necessary – wholeheartedly support them with an eye to the future, or see them as a source of income priced against disruption?

    Does Ireland have a “State telephone company”?

    • The telco is a privatised former-state owned monopoly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eircom

      Their main competition is the cable company, formerly ntl then purchased by Liberty Global, UPC Ireland: http://www.upc.ie/bundles/broadband-phone/

    • Avatar DTMark

      The path of history there, seems remarkably similar to here. Most especially the sell-off of the mobile arm of the company – which would be a bit like Samsung announcing today that the future of mobiles is not with smart-phones.

      The common theme seems to be governments with an eye a quick buck for now ignoring the fact that privatisation will not work in favour of the consumer unless a market exists or can be stimulated, and failing to recognise the value of the “last mile” resource for future needs.

      I suspect the biggest problem in the UK is the precedent which has been set: broadband roll-outs are a State function, not a private one. This, to me, is the worst legacy of the BDUK approach.

  3. Avatar adslmax

    BT should withdrawn FTTC nright now and go for FTTH instead for a new superfast Britain for a change otherwise BT will fall behind with other providers who aiming go forward with fastest 1Gbps.

  4. Avatar Tim

    No let BT fall behind, this is the reason that we are starting to see investment from other providers in their own network builds

  5. Avatar Matthew Williams

    Not to surprising something like this has happened with Vodafone they something to distinguish themselves in Ireland now that the merger between O2 Ireland and Three Ireland has gone through. All credit to them it is a brilliant thing to happen and follows similar things they have done on the continent by buying fibre networks.

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