ESB seeks partner to set up fibre network

Vodafone and BT Ireland are vying to partner ESB in building a €400 million super-fast fibre network, which will be strung across ESB poles and run directly into homes and businesses. It will be open for use by all internet providers in the market, and will provide serious competition in some areas for Eircom’s €1.5 billion fibre investment.

ESB is seeking a partner to launch a new joint venture company to develop the network.The first phase of its development will connect 450,000 buildings in towns outside the main metropolitan areas such as Dublin and Cork. Sources said it would have broadband speeds of up to 150MB per second, making it the country’s most powerful network.

Vodafone and BT are both understood to be interested. Bids are due in at the end of next month, and a decision will be made by the end of September, after which it is expected there will be several months of negotiations about the operation of the new company. Work will begin on the network in the first quarter of next year.

Both BT and Vodafone declined to comment. ESB declined to comment on its potential partners, but said: “The process to select a JV partner for ESB’s fibre project is ongoing and will hopefully be concluded by the end of the year, with a view to starting the project in early 2014.”

Most fibre networks run to roadside cabinets, with copper wires used for the final stretch into buildings, slowing down speeds for customers. The ESB JV will run fibre directly into the walls of buildings alongside its electricity wires, a system known as fibre-to-the-building (FTTB).

Eircom’s fibre network, being developed to rival UPC’s new high-speed service, is a combination of roadside cabinet and FTTB technology.

The joint venture will own the fibre assets, but will pay ESB Networks a fee to piggyback on its pole infrastructure. The JV will act as an open-access wholesaler, raising the prospect of stiffer competition emerging to provide broadband services in towns around the country.

Any internet provider will be able to buy space on the network from the JV at a wholesale price, and sell services to users at retail level. The JV will not have its own retail presence. The first towns will be ‘lit up’ in about 12 months.

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