Ireland is a nation divided. Some 750,000 homes and businesses make up Ireland’s broadband blackspots, while others enjoy speeds of 240 Mbps thanks to the country’s growing Fibre networks. So, what is Fibre and when will all of Ireland have access?
We could all probably benefit from some more fibre in our diet. Every breakfast cereal I pass in my local supermarket seems to think that boasting of a high fibre content is the best way to entice me to buy. I’m a man of simple pleasures, the cereal with the best toy is still the one that makes its way into my trolley.
A similar Fibre obsession is rampant among Ireland’s internet providers. UPC, Sky, Eircom and Vodafone all made a lot of noise when they each launched their Fibre broadband packages. And it’s becoming something of a buzzword among broadband speed junkies.
We’re here to explain exactly what Fibre is and why it has broadband providers, Netflix addicts and rural Ireland excited.
What is Fibre Broadband?
Fibre broadband is a network of fibre optic cables that can transmit data at a faster rate than any other type of network.
ADSL is the most common type of broadband connection in Ireland and uses the medium of copper wires to send data. It’s faster than dial-up analogic internet (that’s the one with that unforgettable grr…bzz…boingboing…beep connection sound) but much slower than Fibre.
In theory, Fibre can provide connection speeds of up to 240 Mbps, which is ten times faster than ADSL connections. Sounds impressive, right? Well it is. But not all Fibre customers actually get this speed...yet.
What broadband speed can Fibre deliver?
If you’re on a ‘Fibre-to-the-Cabinet’ (FTTC) connection (as Sky, Eircom and Vodafone customers are at the time of writing), the best speed you’ll get is 100 Mbps.
As data is whizzing through your fibre optic cable at the speed of light (literally) on its way to your computer screen, it slows down significantly as it reaches your street or town. That’s because the last leg of your data’s journey must be completed through the cumbersome copper wires that connect to your house.
UPC uses a cable connection system known as DOCSIS 3.0, which brings Fibre to within 300 metres of your home, before hybrid fibre coaxial cables step in to carry data from there to your computer screen. This type of connection allows UPC to provide those impressive 240 Mbps speeds to Irish homes, making it the provider of the fastest broadband in the country.
But there may be even more to come from UPC in the near future. As we saw at a demonstration back in 2012, UPC's network is actually capable of producing speeds of up to an amazing 1.4 Gbps.
What are the other advantages of Fibre?
Apart from much faster connection speeds, Fibre signals are also more reliable than their copper counterparts. Data travelling through copper can make it 5km before needing to stop for regeneration, while Fibre optic cables can carry information for over 20km before needing a breather.
Fibre optic cables are very delicate, however. They’re thinner than a human hair after all! They can’t be laid above ground or in shallow earth, where they’ll be at the mercy of the elements.
Setting up a Fibre network is a big commitment that costs a lot of time and money but right now there’s a huge amount of work going on around the country to provide this service to all homes and businesses.
National Broadband Plan
Last week, we finally saw details of the Government’s plan to broadband-ify the entire country by 2020. Terms like ‘ambitious’, ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘cutting-edge’ were splashed across headlines relating to the news.
But some have questioned the choice of 30 Mbps as the minimum threshold for the so-called “high-speed broadband” promised in the Plan. Sure, only last week, the FCC in America declared that speeds below 50 Mbps could no longer even be referred to as ‘broadband’.
Nevertheless, the news of guaranteed internet speeds of at least 30 Mbps will be music (of the high-quality streamed variety) to the ears of the 750,000 homes and businesses that are currently outside the reach of commercial providers.
The project will cost somewhere between €300m and €500m and the goal is for 85% of the country to be broadband-ified by 2018 and everyone to be up and running by 2020.
Ireland's Fibre providers
Eircom is one of the early front-runners for the contract to implement the Government’s National Broadband Plan. The country’s biggest telecommunications provider began work on its Fibre network in 2012 and launched it in May 2013.
Eircom claims to have serviced 1.2m homes and businesses with 100 Mbps speeds so far and is aiming to increase that figure to 1.6m by 2016 and to 1.9m by 2020.
In September, Eircom is also planning on launching ‘Fibre-to-the-Home’ broadband in 66 towns and is promising speeds of…wait for it…1 Gbps as part of it.
Belcarra in County Mayo, a town of 222 people and an impressive history of tidy towns victories, was selected as a trial town for Eircom’s 'FTTH' service in October 2014 and was lit up with speeds of 1 Gbps. Impressive stuff!
SIRO (Vodafone and ESB)
Eircom is expected to have some stiff competition for the National Broadband Plan contract from SIRO, a joint venture between Vodafone and ESB.
SIRO is aiming to provide ‘Fibre-to-the-Building’ broadband to 500,000 premises in 50 towns by 2020. But if you don’t want to wait until then, you can sign up to Vodafone’s existing Fibre package now.
Just last month, Pure Telecom signed a deal worth €20m with Eircom Wholesale, to give its customers access to those lightning-quick speeds that Fibre brings.
Pure Telecom customers will now be able to enjoy 100 Mbps speeds via Eircom’s network and will be able to provide 1 Gbps broadband to customers once Eircom launches its ‘Fibre-to-the-Home’ service in September.
Sky launched its Fibre service in January 2015 to help continue its impressive growth since arriving on the Irish broadband scene in 2013.
All this talk of future Fibre rollouts will have some UPC customers feeling pretty smug at the fact that they’ve been enjoying Ireland’s top broadband speed of 240 Mbps since last January.
The broadband speed now on offer from UPC is almost ten times faster than the 25 Mbps it was selling less than three years ago. By any standard, that's some very impressive progress.
Although 2020 seems like a long way off, the country is finally on a path to full broadband-ification. And that’s a good thing. The National Broadband Plan is the biggest rural project since electrification in the 1950s and, all going to plan, will bridge Ireland’s widening urban-rural divide.
For those of us lucky enough to have broadband access now, Fibre is becoming more widely available, faster and cheaper thanks to the continuing growth of the network. If you're not happy with your broadband speed, you could well have a Fibretastic option available to you, and it might even be cheaper too.
The breakfast cereal-makers and broadband providers are right: more Fibre in your life will make everything work a whole lot better.