Meet SIRO - The 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network

Learn more about SIRO, a joint venture company between ESB and Vodafone which aims to revolutionise broadband in Ireland

Eleanor Rosney
by Eleanor Rosney on 21st October, 2015

SIRO, a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone, is investing €450 million in building Ireland’s first 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network.

The network will enable 500,000 premises to avail of 1 Gigabit broadband speeds, revolutionising the broadband market in Ireland. 

SIRO’s key differentiator from other networks is that it is a custom built 100% fibre optic service powered by light, making it different to any other broadband infrastructure in Ireland.

Phase one of the project involves 50 large regional towns and will be available to communities with at least 4,000 homes or businesses. A rural pilot to test the feasibility of a potential second phase has also recently commenced in Ratheniska, Laois.

We spoke with Sean Atkinson, Chief Executive of SIRO to learn more about fibrehoods, the National Broadband Plan and the unique SIRO network.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about SIRO’s beginning and how you got to where you are now?

A. ESB has had fibre optic cable on its transmissions lines for 15 years which was used as backhaul. In the last decade, ESB has invested €8 billion in its local (distribution access) network, refurbishing it and making it robust. With the demand for increased connectivity growing rapidly, ESB saw a need for access fibre and conducted trials to see could fibre be deployed deeper and deeper into its network - and bring something which had never been offered in Ireland - fibre all the way to the building.

ESB began a tender process in September 2012 to find a partner to deploy a fibre-to-the-building network using ESB Networks’ overhead and underground infrastructure as part of its innovation strategy. Vodafone emerged as the preferred bidder for the project in September 2013 when both companies entered exclusive negotiations. Vodafone brings a wealth of experience from international markets and also has significant experience in the area of wholesale agreements.

The agreement to form the new joint venture company was signed by the two organisations on July 2, 2014 with EU regulatory approval secured in November 2014. We then selected Cavan as the first town to trial the technology last year, with 300 homes in the Aughnaskerry and Rocklands estates becoming the first premises to have our 100% fibre-to-the-building technology installed. The brand of the joint venture company was formally unveiled as SIRO on May 14, 2015.

Since May, construction on SIRO’s 100% fibre optic broadband network began in earnest and we have started our rollout in Carrigaline, Dundalk and Sligo. We also unveiled Ratheniska, Laois - home of the National Ploughing Championships - as the location for our rural broadband pilot programme to evaluate the potential for rolling out the SIRO network to rural areas in a future phase.

Construction on our 100% fibre optic network continues and we will be announcing our next fibrehoods soon, with services to go live this winter.

Q. SIRO’s fibre to the home open network is unique in Ireland. What makes it unique?

A. SIRO’s key differentiator is that it is a 100% fibre-optic internet connection, making it different and better than any other broadband infrastructure in Ireland, with no copper connection at any point in the network. This will mean that consumers, businesses, community groups and service providers such as hospitals and schools will be able to avail of a 1 Gigabit internet connection. It will transform the internet experience of SMEs, remote workers and consumers in the regional towns included in our rollout. For example, a high definition film (4GB) takes one hour to download with a 10 Mbps connection, with SIRO it will take 30 seconds.

It is Ireland’s first fully open access network and will be available to all broadband service providers in the country, which is a huge positive as it will drive welcome competition in the market and much needed investment in broadband infrastructure across regional Ireland.  

This is the first time that electricity infrastructure has been used to roll out fibre to the building broadband on a nationwide basis in Europe.

This is the first time that electricity infrastructure has been used to roll out fibre to the building broadband on a nationwide basis in Europe. Ireland is well placed because ESB owns and operates the distribution system on the whole of the island of Ireland, and that infrastructure is in very good condition having been fully refurbished over the last 10 years. The new EU Commission Directive encourages better use of existing public infrastructure for broadband delivery as part of the EU 2020 digital agenda, Ireland is actually pioneering in this area.

Q. What’s a “fibrehood” and how will SIRO impact the lives of people living there?

A. We have dubbed the 50 regional towns as part of our rollout fibrehoods. SIRO will enable each fibrehood that is part of our network to avail of the latest developments in areas like eCommerce and telemedicine, which will encourage more people to pursue business opportunities, establish new companies and take advantage of remote working. Access to our 1 Gigabit network means that each town’s broadband infrastructure will be four times more powerful than Dublin. Better connectivity is a key factor for attracting investment to regions and SIRO’s 100% fibre optic broadband network will put towns like Carrigaline and Sligo on a par with leading international hubs like Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Q. State intervention and funding is required to provide high-speed broadband access to rural communities. Is SIRO confident of playing a major part in delivering the Government’s National Broadband Plan?

A. Like other companies in the sector, we have consulted with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources about where we plan to roll out our service as part of the first and second phases of our project to enable them to identify locations that would be covered by the National Broadband Plan.

We plan to participate in the National Broadband Plan process and believe that broadband delivered with over 100% fibre represents the best solution for Irish connectivity needs for many years to come. As our 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network will be deployed on ESB’s existing overhead and underground infrastructure, this will ensure a fast and cost efficient roll-out to every county in Ireland. Backed by two of Ireland’s leading corporates - Vodafone and ESB - SIRO also has the funding and capability to address this need.

Q. Communications Minister Alex White said it was his “personal hope” that all the premises in the country would have high-speed broadband by 2020. Is the National Broadband plan realistic or too ambitious?

A. With recent data from ComReg, the Irish telecoms regulator, showing that 36% of fixed broadband customers in Ireland receive less than 10 Mbps, there is a clear need to ensure that every premise has access to high speed broadband.

We need to be very clear, however, on what we mean by high speed or fibre broadband as this is becoming a catch all phrase. As we have seen in recent years with the launch of services like Netflix in Ireland and more devices in households being used to connect to the internet, the demands being placed on traditional broadband services are increasing every day. Therefore we need a future proofed solution which will be a key enabler for a knowledge based, services led economy and help to attract foreign direct investment across the country.

One of the key reasons why we plan to participate in the National Broadband Plan is that we believe our 100% fibre optic broadband network will future proof Ireland for the range of demands that businesses and consumers have now and more importantly into the future.

Q. What will be SIRO’s biggest challenge in 2016?

A. Our biggest challenge in 2016 will be keeping up with the scale of demand for access to our 100% fibre optic network. Since our original launch announcement we have been inundated with queries about when SIRO will be coming to various towns and villages across the country. As a result, we have identified an additional 320 towns that we would target as part of a second phase. The second phase could run in tandem with the rollout of the first phase.

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