ESB and Vodafone to invest €450 million in 100% fibre broadband network across Ireland in European first

ESB and Vodafone today signed an innovative joint venture agreement to invest €450 million in building a 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network offering speeds from 200 Mbps to 1000 Mbps, propelling Ireland into the ranks of the world’s fastest broadband countries.

Ireland will also become the first country in Europe to utilise existing electricity infrastructure on a nationwide basis to deploy fibre directly into homes and businesses, initially reaching 500,000 premises in 50 towns. The fibre will be deployed on ESB’s existing overhead and underground infrastructure, ensuring a fast and cost efficient roll-out to every county in Ireland and reversing the digital divide between the capital and regional towns.

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With recent data from ComReg, the Irish telecoms regulator, showing that 43% of fixed broadband customers in Ireland receive speeds of less than 10 Mbps, direct access to 100% fibre broadband of up to one gigabit per second will transform the internet experience of small and medium businesses (SME), remote workers and consumers. This will help regional areas to compete more effectively for investment and jobs, and SMEs to work more efficiently, enhance their online presence and reach new markets and customers. Consumers will enjoy innovations ranging from home entertainment to e-health and virtual education. Home working will also become a real option for more people, helping Ireland to develop its smart economy. With global internet traffic set to triple in the next five years, the speed and reliability delivered by 100% fibre broadband will ensure Irish customers can lead the digital lives they want.

Subject to European Commission approval, the 50:50 joint venture will begin rolling-out the new network across Ireland in the coming months, with the first customers able to avail of 100% fibre broadband from the start of 2015. The initial phase of the project is expected to be fully rolled-out by the end of 2018, with scope for a second phase under the joint venture.

While the ESB and Vodafone joint venture will build and manage the network, open access will be offered to all telecoms operators in Ireland on a wholesale basis. This means that other operators can resell the fibre product to their customers, helping to stimulate the development of new services and boosting retail competition in the broadband market for all Irish consumers and businesses.

Vodafone was selected as ESB’s joint venture partner following a competitive tender process. Vodafone has 200,000 fixed broadband customers in Ireland and over 8.5 million across Europe. In February, Vodafone was recognised by the FTTH Council Europe for its ‘outstanding contribution’ to fibre-to-the-home adoption in Europe through its fibre roll-outs in Portugal and Spain.

Commenting on the announcement, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte said: “The National Broadband Plan underlines Government’s commitment to delivering high-speed broadband services to rural Ireland, with fibre as a core element. Complementing Government investment in rural areas, will be commercial investment in more densely populated areas, offering competitive high speed services over multiple technology platforms. Today’s announcement by ESB and Vodafone to create a joint venture company to deliver up to one gigabit of broadband speeds in 50 locations nationwide is a very exciting  step in ensuring that regional towns can enjoy similar levels of connectivity to our cities, benefiting local business and helping to attract investment.”

“This initiative, combined with significant investments by other industry players means Ireland is beginning to position itself as a front runner in terms of tackling the high speed broadband deficit which almost all developed countries face. This is a vote of confidence in the Irish consumer, Irish business and the Irish economy. The Government has firmly committed to balancing this commercial investment with an ambitious intervention in more rural areas, to ensure that all citizens and businesses have access to high quality, future proofed broadband services.”

Pat O’Doherty, Chief Executive of ESB, said:

“This innovative ESB-led initiative is a major milestone for Ireland as the fibre broadband network will be a key enabler for a knowledge-based, services-led economy that will help to attract investment to Ireland. This fibre infrastructure will use ESB’s existing electricity infrastructure, maximising the use of state assets to the benefit of Irish society. Over the last ten years ESB has invested over €6 billion in its electricity network infrastructure nationally, ensuring it is one of the most robust and modern electricity networks in the world thus enabling the delivery of this new fibre broadband network. From the rural electrification of Ireland, to the development of the smart grid and our telecoms expertise, ESB will continue to pioneer strategic, infrastructure developments that positively impact the economy and offer new competitive services to our customers.” 

Anne O’Leary, Vodafone Ireland CEO, added:

“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.”