Eir steps up with plan as State’s scheme flounders
Ireland is to get blanket 4G mobile broadband coverage in a new twist to the rural broadband controversy.
Eir is to invest €150m in rolling out 4G mobile broadband that will cover 99pc of Ireland's geographical territory within two years.
This is the first time that a mobile operator has offered universal land coverage.
Where the signal is strong enough, 4G can be used for home broadband.
Speeds of up to 100 megabits per second are currently possible, matching the best available on conventional phone line broadband services.
Eir also says that at the same time it will also upgrade the network to be 5G-ready in anticipation of faster mobile broadband standards being introduced next year.
Up to now, mobile operators have only been obliged to cover a majority of the population in cities and large towns, leaving vast areas of the country with poor, slow signals.
Eir's move comes as the Government wrestles with possible alternatives to the stalled National Broadband Plan (NBP), which is awaiting a report from auditor Peter Smyth this week to determine whether it can proceed.
A series of Government leaks in the media have signalled that it may be rethinking its commitment to investing taxpayers' money in rural broadband infrastructure.
The State-subsidised NBP tender would facilitate a fibre network roll-out to 540,000 rural homes and businesses, giving the fastest possible broadband speeds.
However, it has been dogged by delays and is now in danger of being cancelled if a State audit finds that meetings between the former communications minister, Denis Naughten, and the head of the NBP bidding consortium, David McCourt, unduly interfered with due process.
The Eir investment is the beginning of a €1bn overhaul of the company's entire network, which was sparked by a commitment by its new owner, the billionaire French telecoms magnate, Xavier Niel.
Mr Niel has signalled that his two priorities in reforming Eir are a radical expansion of the company's mobile network around the country and upgrading its urban broadband infrastructure to fibre.
The nationwide 4G expansion will involve hundreds of new masts being put in place over two years.
The chief executive of Eir, Carolan Lennon, has claimed that the new investment will make Ireland the most covered country in the world.
She said: "This investment in our mobile network is part of an overall €1bn capital investment programme over the next five years. The programme will also see an expansion of our high-speed fibre-to-the-home roll-out to deliver broadband speeds of up to 1,000Mbps to a further 1.4 million homes and businesses across the country."
Broadband is fast becoming the key battleground for a general election after newly-appointed Communications Minister Richard Bruton admitted there was "no question of a Plan B" despite the current process hanging by a thread.
Writing in The Irish Times on October 26, Pat Leahy reported: "There are growing fears at the highest level of Government about the escalating costs of the National Broadband Plan, now estimated at some €3bn, and officials are working on 'plan B' in case the entire process collapses."