The EU’s decision to authorise the next phase of the Government’s €170m Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) programme to deploy fibre optic rings around 90 more Irish towns has received mixed reactions and questions over the tangible benefits MANs will deliver.
Some 12 months into its 15-year contract, e|net has now taken over running of 20 MANs. These are: Athlone, Ballina, Bunbeg, Carlow, Carrick-on-Shannon, Clonmel, Cork, Dungarvan, Galway, Letterkenny, Limerick, Manorhamilton, Mullingar, Port Laoise, Roscommon, Tullamore, Waterford, Kilkenny, Kiltimagh and Wexford. By the end of the year, the company will have taken over a further seven networks at Carrickmacross, Cavan town, Drogheda, Dundalk, Kingscourt, Monaghan and Sligo.
e|net runs these networks on behalf of the Government, operating as an independent wholesaler by providing access to the MANs to a range of telecoms operators and service providers including Aurora, BT, Chorus, ESB Telecom and Eircom. “There are 15 authorised service providers now using the service and we have a close relationship with them,” reports Tom Savage, chief operating officer with e|net.
Demand for the MANs is now widespread, he adds. An awareness campaign that has been building over the past 12 months has helped e|net to meet its targets. “The activity is as we expected and the revenues are as we predicted,” states Savage. The company had notably promised “disruptive” pricing when it launched last year and Savage adds this factor is attracting interest from telecoms carriers. “Yes, they are coming to us – and it will get better,” he promises.
Although the company won’t reveal exact user numbers, it says its customer base for the MANs – acquired via the various licensed telcos – is a mixture of major multinationals and smaller indigenous firms.
According to Savage, many of the large companies often use the infrastructure as a backup/failover option for their telecoms and data traffic. Community-based group broadband schemes (GBS) can also access the MANs, he adds. Through a deal that e|net has brokered with ESB Telecom, a GBS can establish a wireless connection from a high site to the nearest point on the MAN within line of sight.
”Prior to the MANs, the infrastructure owner ‘owned’ the customer; what we’ve established is the ‘open access’ concept,” Savage relates. “Our fibre is available to any service provider to offer services on that.” Those services include a full suite of technical services to operators such as ducting, sub-ducting, dark fibre, high-level managed capacity, co-location facilities and auxiliary services.
Over the past couple of months, e|net has launched managed services, which Savage says is “creating a stir in the market”. “We’re offering services that weren’t available previously,” he claims. “Service providers decide what bandwidth they want, for example Ethernet or SDH; we set that up and manage that and we guarantee quality of service. The service we provide enables the established players and new entrants to compete.”
e|net takes all of the management information from the circuits and co-location units and sends it to its network operations centre in Limerick. This data includes information on all of the service provider’s systems in the equipment cabin. e|net checks to ensure that the air conditioning, DC power and fire alarms is all working. “We have to actively monitor that all the time; it’s a totally controlled environment.”
That level of competition extends to the DSL market, where Savage says e|net’s presence is helping telcos. Many of the technical hurdles involved in the process of local loop unbundling (LLU) no longer apply, he claims. “There should be a range of products and services being offered for DSL and broadband by different service providers.”
Unlike bitstream access, where other licensed telecoms operators could only resell whatever services the incumbent operator allowed, LLU allows for a wider range of services because the operator puts its own equipment in the telecoms exchange. e|net effectively provides the latter to telecoms operators. “It gives them more freedom, it allows them to deliver their own brands and products,” he says. “I see the MANs as being complementary to LLU.”
As for the future, Savage says the company is actively investigating new distribution methods and product sets. “For instance, take our managed product that would be aimed at the corporate market. We’re getting a lot of enquiries about distributing that to SMEs and we’re currently looking at that.”
The second phase of the MAN project will see a further 87 networks put in place at towns around the country. When that is complete, e|net wants to put in place interconnection between all of the metro networks in Ireland.
What this will effectively mean is that there will be a second national telecoms and data network. e|net is currently putting the finishing touches to a request for information for this additional national interconnection. This document will be sent out to various entities that will give feedback to e|net and make suggestions about how to put this infrastructure in place.
According to Savage, this interconnection would also have the benefit of allowing more national capacity for all the MANs. It would also mean that e|net would effectively become another national telecoms provider, albeit on a wholesale basis. Other licensed operators could then buy capacity from e|net to provide low-cost telecoms services to businesses or residential customers. “We want to do the same in the national market as we’ve done in the metropolitan market,” says Savage simply.
”One of the key things we need to address in this is a distance-independent access price,” he points out. Currently, national telecoms carriers price their circuits according to the ground that it has to cover but e|net wants to establish a flat fee irrespective of where the end customer is located. “One of the requirements is that you will pay X to get 10Mbps access to the internet regardless of which MAN you’re in – that’s the point we want to get to.”
By Gordon Smith, Irish Independent