Eir has signalled the end of the copper landline in Ireland with a €1bn plan to replace them with fibre lines throughout the country within five years.
“That’s where we’re moving to,” Eir CEO Carolan Lennon told the Irish Independent. “In the future, copper will be removed. We’ve kicked off early discussions with ComReg about the future of copper.”
Ms Lennon was speaking as Eir released financial results showing a 2pc fall in annual revenue to €1.27bn and a 2pc rise in its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to €531m.
The company is currently in the final stages of laying down 330,000 fibre-to-the-home broadband connections in rural parts of Ireland under an agreement with the Government.
However, it is now moving to replace copper landlines in cities and urban areas with a new fibre upgrade plan for 1.4 million additional homes and businesses.
“We haven’t had a product to compete with cable in some parts of the country,” said Ms Lennon. “If you look at our market share, we’re under-indexing in those [urban] parts of the country. We believe we can take market share there. When we’re finished, we’ll have 1.73 million homes and businesses, around 76pc of the country’s premises.”
The bulk (542,000) of the remaining premises are due to receive fibre broadband under the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan (NBP). The Government is due to announce a contract with Enet for the NBP this month.
The number of active Eir copper landlines into homes has fallen to 654,000 from around one million six years ago. But despite signalling its intention to wind down its copper network, Eir must set timetables in conjunction with the telecoms regulator.
“We’re a regulated entity and so all of this has to be done under agreement with ComReg,” said Ms Lennon.
“So while copper will be removed in future, it’s when that happens that’s at issue.”
Ms Lennon also said that the company will increase the number of mobile sites it has around the country by 25pc and look to introduce 5G mobile services in 2019, while admitting that the exact services have not yet been decided.
She also said that Eir will not voluntarily reduce the price it charges Enet to access infrastructure needed to support the rollout of the National Broadband Plan.
“No, our prices are regulated,” she said. “The only prices we’re discussing are those set by the regulator. It’s up to ComReg to look at the prices, which reflect the cost of maintaining ducts and poles in rural Ireland.”