Business Technology

Saturday 1 October 2016

A beginner's guide to the new fibre broadband service Siro

Published 14/05/2015 | 17:25

Fibre optic cables
Fibre optic cables

Confused about all the new fibre broadband services being talked about? Here’s a beginner’s guide to ‘Siro’, the new service from Vodafone and the ESB, and where it sits among other services.

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What is the latest thing announced?

Vodafone and ESB have formally unveiled the name of their fibre broadband joint venture. It’s called ‘Siro’. (Pronounced ‘Sirroh’.)

Read more: New fibre broadband venture to create 260 jobs

So what is it?

It’s a new fibre broadband network that will run fibre along the ESB’s power lines (both overhead and underground) and into people’s homes and businesses. Because it’s pure fibre -- there’s no copper phone lines involved at any point -- the speeds are very high: up to 1,000Mbs. That’s around four times the top speed of UPC and around 10 times the top speed of Eircom’s current ‘eFibre’ service.

Where is it available?

10 launch towns were announced today: Cavan, Dundalk, Westport, Castlebar, Sligo, Carrigaline, Tralee, Navan, Letterkenny and Wexford. While the company is officially saying that services will be available “this Autumn”, in fact some of these towns won’t have any availability at launch. When Siro says ‘launch’, it means ‘building out’.

So how many people, exactly, will be able to get it and when?

Executives say that 25,000 homes and businesses from the first 10 towns will be able to receive the service by the end of the year. That’s only 5% of the 500,000 homes and businesses that the company says will eventually be able to receive it by the end of 2018. Another 40 large regional towns (see the list on Siro.ie) will see its fibre network built out over the next three years. After that, the company says it is likely to target a further 500,000 homes and businesses in another 300 smaller regional towns. If this is completed, it will see over 2m people eligible for the high speed service.

How much will it cost to buy?

Siro isn’t saying. But a smart estimate might be somewhere between €40 and €90 per month, depending on the speed package you get. A crucial point here is that Siro is a ‘wholesale’ product, meaning that you won’t buy the broadband package from Siro itself. Instead, it will be from a local operator that resells you a Siro-based fibre broadband service. In other words, you might be buying the product from UPC or Vodafone or even Eircom (in the unlikely event it decides to become a Siro reseller).

Will this blow Eircom out of the water?

Eircom says that it is launching its own fibre-to-the-home broadband service at the same time as Siro and in the same towns. It won’t be delivered over ESB lines but it will be fibre piped into people’s homes and businesses, say Eircom executives, in the same way as Siro is. So Eircom intends to aggressively compete with this new service with like-for-like speeds.

How does it match up to Eircom’s eFibre?

It’s much faster than Eircom's ‘eFibre’. 'eFibre' only brings the fibre line to the nearest street ‘cabinet’, where it connects to a copper phone line before it goes into your home. That means it’s restricted to a maximum of about 100Mbs (and a huge number of ‘eFibre’ lines don’t make that high). Siro takes a fibre line right into your living room or kitchen, meaning you get maximum fibre speeds.

Does this have anything to do with the government’s proposed rural National Broadband Plan?

No. It’s a completely separate commercial entity, set up by the ESB and Vodafone to make money. They think they’ve spotted a gap in the market and they’re investing heavily (€450m) in a service that they think people will pay for.

Why is this only targeting large regional towns and not smaller towns in rural Ireland?

Because it would cost too much to roll it out there. Siro will only roll out to towns with at least 4,000 homes or businesses.

So what about rural Ireland, then?

Rural Ireland -- which means around a third of the population -- will have to wait for the government’s proposed state-subsidised National Broadband Plan. The Minister for Communications Alex White now says that he expects the “physical construction” of a rural fibre network to begin in “the latter half of 2016”. He says he expects it to take “between three and five years”, meaning that it could be the end of 2021 when it’s fully in place. That’s a little later than first proposed. However, the government insists that it will go ahead. Both Eircom and Vodafone-ESB (Siro) say that they will bid for the National Broadband Plan’s tender once it becomes available later this year.

Why isn’t this being rolled out in the cities?

Because the cities have UPC. And right now, the cable company’s 250Mbs is fast enough for the majority of the market. So it doesn’t make sense yet to go up against it. Siro is only launching in areas that don’t have UPC.

Finally, why did Vodafone-ESB pick ‘Siro’?

Apparently it’s something to do with Sirius, which is a star. But it remains a long shot whether people will pronounce it the way the company hopes (‘Syroh’). Didn’t they hear of Siri?

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