Eircom has become the first Irish operator to launch a 4G mobile network, giving smartphone, tablet and laptop users broadband speeds up to 10 times what existing mobile services offer.
The company has launched the network for Meteor and eMobile users in Dublin, Carlow and Athlone, with Cork, Limerick and Galway set to follow by the end of the year. Altogether, almost half the country’s population will have access to the service by the end of December, with the company pledging to increase coverage to 70pc within three years.
The company said that 19 smartphone handsets would be supported on the 4G network at launch. Some customers would also receive unlimited monthly data until March, according to the company.
In November, Eircom paid €145m to telecoms regulator Comreg for its 4G licence. A further €100m is payable to Comreg in licence fees over the next 17 years.
However, those with iPhones will have to wait to gain the benefit of 4G service. According to Eircom, Apple has not yet ‘certified’ Eircom’s 4G network for use with its
iPhone 5 devices, which are the only iPhones that work 4G network services.
“We’re currently working with Apple on that and will hopefully have that resolved soon,” said Elaine Robinson, director of voice and data at Eircom.
4G -- short for ‘fourth generation’ -- gives faster mobile broadband speeds to smartphones, tablets and dongles. Internet connection speeds over 4G typically exceed 10 Megabits per second (Mbs) and sometimes reach over 30Mbs. This compares to typical speeds of between 1Mbs and 3Mbs over the 3G networks currently used by operators.
The company will use its 1800Mhz bandwidth in Dublin and 800Mhz outside of the capital, according to Ms Robinson.
The company’s chief executive, Herb Hribar, said that Eircom had invested €300m in its mobile network, part of a €1.3bn investment currently under way in its wider network. He said that beating Vodafone, O2 and 3 to become the country’s first 4G operator was a signal of Eircom’s intent in moving away from a catch-up operator.
“This is gigantic for us, we can’t understate its importance,” he said. “We’re now leading, not lagging. We’ve delivered fibre on time and now we’re leading the market in delivering next-generation mobile. This gives us credibility, it gives us some of our swagger back.”
Hribar said that while the company would reach its 70pc population coverage target within three years, it would increase that to 90pc after that.
He also said that Eircom was working with the Department of Communications on how to increase rural broadband coverage.
“We’ll push out as far as we can, he said. “We’re strongly participating in the government’s national broadband plan and have given the government the information they need on mapping, so they know where the gaps are.”
Earlier today, Vodafone announced that it would launch a 4G service to five Irish cities and 26 towns in mid-October. Vodafone’s head of networks, Sheila Kavanagh, said that the 4G network would cover between 40pc and 55pc of the country at launch.
“From our perspective, what we’re launching is dramatically more than Meteor,” said Vodafone’s head of networks, Sheila Kavanagh. “We’re even launching in some towns with less than 2,000 people in them.”
Ms Kavanagh also said that less than 5pc of Irish phones were 4G-compatible. She said that between 60pc and 70pc of Irish phones were 3G-compatible. She said that the company is investing heavily in rolling out its existing 3G network infrastructure.
Ms Kavanagh said that the 4G launch would be a data launch and that 4G plans involving handsets would not be available until November.
“It will be a data launch, meaning the service will be available first by getting a 4G sim card ,” she said.
One reason for this is that Apple has not yet ‘certified’ Irish 4G networks for use with iPhone 5 models.
“We aim to have iPhones available on 4G as part of the smartphone launch,” saidMs Kavanagh. “It’s not yet certified by Apple.”
Ms Kavanagh said that 70pc of Vodafone’s customers already have 3G phones, while under 5pc have 4G handsets.
As well as the cities covered, the company said that its launch locations would include a number of towns in the South east and South West of the country.
These include: Carlow, Tralee, Wexford, Midleton, Ballincollig, Mallow, Cobh, Killarney, Enniscorthy, Dungarvan, New Ross, Carrigtohill, Macroom, Mitchelstown, Bantry, Blarney, Kanturk, Bagnelstown, Thomastown, Kenmare, Bunclody, Newmarket, Dunmanway, Lismore and Rosslare Harbour.