THOUSANDS of UPC customers will see their basic broadband package more than double in speed in a major upgrade to the service, it has been announced today.
The company is boosting its beginner package from 50 megabits (Mbs) per second to 120Mbs, a move that will see Ireland catapulted up the European broadband league.
Irish homes will overtake many British, French and European regions for fibre-speed broadband access.
"It's quite a big strategic move for us," said Mark Coan, vice-president of UPC Ireland. "But it's based on a realistic assessment of ordinary people's broadband needs. Overall, Irish internet traffic has grown 800pc in the past four years and that's going to continue."
The speed increase will be available to 700,000 households in the cities and major towns covered in UPC's network.
Currently, UPC customers pay a staggered fee depending on how fast they want their broadband to be.
The cheapest is €39 per month for 50Mbs, which will be more than doubled to 120Mbs under the upgrade.
Another package to get a significant boost under the announcement today will be the €59-per-month 150Mbs option, which will be increased to 200Mbs. The company is also increasing its minimum monthly data limits to 30 gigabytes to cater for people using 'Netflix' and other video services.
UPC's move comes after Eircom announced its intention to upgrade internet access to over 70Mbs for 1.2 million Irish homes and businesses.
Combined, the two operators look likely to move Ireland closer to the global top 10 for average internet speeds.
Ireland currently lies in 15th place, with an average internet speed of just under 7Mbs. However, UPC's move will also serve to re-emphasise the growing gulf in broadband availability between urban and rural Ireland.
At present, 400,000 Irish homes remain stuck with basic internet access – with most of these in rural areas.
The Government has pledged to connect every home to fibre-speed broadband services of 30Mbs by 2014's end.
However, senior telecom industry figures believe that the Government's allocated capital investment plan of €175m falls far short of the sum required.
Mr Coan also said UPC was looking at launching an Irish mobile phone service. UPC's move comes on the same day that Vodafone is launching its 4G data network in Ireland, with new mobile broadband speeds of up to 30Mbs.