At this year’s Engineers Ireland conference, Eircom’s Geoff Shakespeare outlined the company’s ambitious plans to bring 70Mb broadband to 1.2 million premises by 2015, writes Mary Anne Carrigan
Tech

Eircom is to launch its own IPTV (internet protocol television) service later this year, according to Geoff Shakepeare, managing director of technology evolution and development at the Eircom Group.

He was speaking at the Engineers Ireland Annual Conference, which took place in Dublin’s Ballsbridge Hotel last week.

“Eircom’s network supports new media services such as IPTV, which is essentially TV over broadband,” he told delegates. “We’ll launch our TV service later this year and while I don’t want to say too much at this time for commercial reasons, it demonstrates just how much Eircom has changed – we’re now ‘on the front foot’, so to speak, for the first time in many years. We hope that our new offer will allow us to better compete with rival cable and satellite TV providers.”

Shakepeare said that the Irish fixed, mobile and broadband telecommunications giant had emerged from the biggest corporate examinership in the history of the State “positioned strategically for the future”.

“We exited examinership on the back of significant investment and, for the first time in a while, we’ve lots of new products and services to launch,” said Shakespeare. “We’re very ambitious, but also realistic – we’re going to facilitate access to always-on, super-fast broadband for over 60% of the population in two years. You might be sceptical, but we’re already well on our way there.”

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FIBRE BROADBAND NETWORK

Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched the company’s national fibre broadband network and eFibre product last month, which means that more than 300,000 homes and businesses can now access broadband with speeds of up to 70Mb per second. By the end of this year, Eircom has set ambitious targets to reach more than 600,000 premises, bringing over 10,000 additional homes and businesses online each week, according to Shakespeare.

“When completed in early 2015, our network will reach 1.2 million premises across Ireland, representing 60% of all homes and businesses in the country,” he added. “We also intend to increase the speeds on offer up to 100Mb per second within the next year as the technology evolves.

The network is also accessible to Eircom’s competitors such as UPC, Magnet and Vodafone as a wholesale product, so the development gives customers and potential customers more choice when it comes to their service provider.

Shakespeare was keen to stress that Eircom was an Irish company, investing in the country’s national network. “We live and die by what happens to our customers here, so it’s to everyone’s benefit that we invest in a better fibre network.” He said the money for the investment was coming from company cashflow and equated to €409 million over 2.5 years.

Eircom has over two million customers using their fixed and mobile services, including Meteor mobile telephone network, with another 400,000 customers using its networks through wholesale divisions without knowing it. With a geographic reach from west cork to Donegal, it has a more extensive network than any other provider. It is the largest telecoms provider in Ireland with over 6,500 staff, although Shakespeare told the conference that it intended to reduce employee numbers over the next few years.

€1.5 BILLION INVESTMENT 

Part of Eircom’s five-year strategic plan out of examinership included €1.5 billion investment in capital expenditure – conference delegates heard that the company invests more than €1 million every working day on infrastructure to improve services. The company’s strategy is called ‘Networks for a Nation’ and this has four pillars – 4G, cloud services, quad play/TV and fibre.

“The development of the 4G network will provide high-speed mobile connectivity to 60% of the population by start of 2015. Last year, we spent €144 million to acquire a 4G spectrum licence for our Meteor mobile division. By next year, we’ll have spent €240 million to provide high-speed wireless broadband access, or 4G, services. In the first instance, though, we’re maximising 3G by utilising some of the new low-frequency spectrum that we’ve acquired. We’ve already improved 3G by 20% and 60% of sites should be improved by this autumn.”

The plan also includes the provision of 4,000 public WiFi hotspots – over half of these have already rolled out to locations such as Dublin Airport, retail operations, cafés, petrol stations and on Irish Rail services.

Shakespeare said that cloud development was also crucial, particularly for corporate customers. “Smyth’s Toys, for example, signed up to our cloud services. Christmas is their busiest time and by using cloud, last Christmas they saw 50% increase in online traffic and delivered bottom-line business benefits because they could scale their services without having to make costly capital investment.

“Crucially, our fibre-optic network also makes cloud services available to small- and medium-sized enterprises at an affordable cost. The most important things for cloud services are high bandwidth and high-speed broadband.”

Cloud services offer Ireland a competitive advantage in what is a growing sector, he added, citing “big operators such as Amazon, Dell and Microsoft”, who all operate in this sphere in Ireland.

The launch of a range of entertainment services over fibre including IPTV, video on demand, catch-up TV and social media via TV will see Eircom be the first to offer fully-fledged ‘quad-play’ bundles, which would allow customers to receive telephone, broadband, mobile and television services from one provider.

The broadband and home phone market that Eircom once dominated has become increasingly competitive in recent years, particularly due to the expansion of services by companies formerly focused on television such as Sky and UPC. With much of its competition now coming from television service providers that moved into its market, Eircom hopes to have similar success when it returns fire.

CHALLENGES OF DEMAND

A major challenge for the company is to keep up with the demand for fast, cheap and reliable broadband – as well as massive increases in volume usage.

“In the past three years, we’ve seen year-on-year increases of 25%, 20% and 50% over fixed and mobile,” according to the managing director of technology evolution and development. “That means a total of 90GB of additional traffic and we expect that top double to 180GB as the take-up of fibre broadband services rolls out

“There has also been a massive growth in smartphone use and this past Christmas, 55% of usage on Eircom networks was on smartphones. That’s how people want to access information now – however and wherever they want. We believe fixed and broadband services are complementary.

“Customers recognise that they can’t get exactly the same services on the go as they get in the office or at home, but there’s no doubt that the appetite for greater data requirements and functionality on the move just keeps on growing. This is a challenge for all telecom operators – it’s just not commercially viable to roll all out every single new technology to scale.”

In the next year, he added, Eircom will also introduce a new noise cancellation technology, which he said would support further development to facilitate up to 100Mb per second using existing networks. However, as part of the group’s plan to deploy fibre-to-the-curb that will enable 1.2 million Irish homes and businesses get broadband access of up to 70Mbps by 2014, Shakespeara said that the infrastructure would be ‘future-proofed’ to enable fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity.

“If the economic environment in the country improves sufficiently to make an FTTH upgrade viable, the technology could potentially see households and businesses receiving connection speeds of between 100Mbps and 200Mbps available in many parts of the country. This is a future-proof investment, allowing for future upgrades to the whole technology that can support even faster speeds.

“It’s a massive civil engineering project to develop all of this infrastructure,” he continued. “There are 400 people daily working on the build and 40 planners, laying 15km of new fibre every day. We see it as an investment to facilitate economic recovery. At the same time, Ireland has been forced to become more competitive and Eircom has had to do the same. High-speed broadband will bring economic and social benefits across Ireland and we see it as our job to bring these benefits to people and businesses, as cost effectively as possible.”

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/130606_N3_045-3-1024x715.jpeghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/130606_N3_045-3-300x300.jpegDavid O'RiordanTech4G,broadband,fibre tech
Eircom is to launch its own IPTV (internet protocol television) service later this year, according to Geoff Shakepeare, managing director of technology evolution and development at the Eircom Group. He was speaking at the Engineers Ireland Annual Conference, which took place in Dublin’s Ballsbridge Hotel last week. “Eircom’s network supports new...