Ireland's utilities investing in hundreds of fibre-kilometers

Aurora Telecom, a carrier's carrier owned by Ireland's state-run gas company, plans to build an intercity fibre-optic network called City 2 City that will connect major cities in the Irish Republic to Belfast in Northern Ireland.

The company issued a tender late last month for 600 km of fibre-optic cable. Some 250 km of cable will be used to interconnect Dublin, Gallway, and Shannon. Early this year, Aurora Telecom installed a duct network linking the cities, while its parent company, Bord Gáis Éireann (Irish Gas Board), installed new natural gas lines.

Aurora is in talks with other companies to acquire ducts to extend its network north to Belfast and south to Cork. These two routes would require more than 300 km of cable. The network is designed to provide access into all the major towns along these routes, including Mullingar, Tullamore, Athlone, and Ennis. Aurora general manager Donal Hanrahan says the company had not yet decided what the fibre counts would be and that the decision would be made based on the bids for the project. Construction of City 2 City will be driven by customer demand. Parallel to City 2 City, a metro plan called CityWIDE is being developed by Aurora.

In Dublin, Aurora has already installed more than 90 km of 144-fibre cable along Bord Gáis Éireann's gas network. The cables use G.652 and G.655 specification fibre. The network is constructed in ring formation, providing route-resilient connectivity between the central business districts and primary business parks on the perimeter of Dublin city. Aurora customers include new-entrant telcos, wireless operators, and data centres.

Aurora's fibre network will complement a national fibre-optic network that ESB Telecom will complete this year. ESB Telecom, a division of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) that is owned 95% by the Irish government, is finishing a 1,300-km, 48-fibre network, which will cover the country from Donegal to Cork. Money for the project was supplied by ESB. ESB Telecom's network includes two regional rings: the Southern Loop and Northern Loop. The network is being built using wraparound cable supplied by AFL Focas. The network uses SDH technology supplied by Ericsson. ESB is studying the use of DWDM and Gigabit Ethernet technologies.

Like Aurora, ESB Telecom operates as a carrier's carrier, targeting alternative operators such as Colt, MCI, NTL, and AT&T. The network will also be used for ESB's internal communications. Aurora Telecom and ESB Telecom's fibre-optic networks will be used to connect cities that are part of the Irish government's Metropolitan Areas Network Programme, which identifies 19 cities and towns around the country as broadband nodes.

Aurora's planned network will connect 10 of the cities. The ESB Telecom fibre network, when completed, will connect 12 of them. The national broadband initiative is 90% funded by the government under the National Development Plan 2000-06 and co-funded by the EU under the European Regional Development Fund.

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