The battle between broadband providers in the next-generation super-fast broadband stakes will step up a notch later today when Eircom announces the roll-out of a new Fibre to the Home (FTTH) network across 66 towns in Ireland.

The new network can achieve speeds of up to a gigbyte or 1,000MB – fast enough to download a high-definition movie in less than one minute – which is 10 times faster than what is available on Eircom’s existing fibre network.

The announcement comes a day after the European Commission green-lighted a similar FTTH joint venture between ESB and Vodafone that will build a €450 million super-speed broadband network across ESB poles in regional areas.

FTTH achieves this by running fibre directly from its main fibre network through the walls of subscribers’ homes and businesses, bypassing the slower copper lines that deliver its regular services in the final stretch to buildings.

Eircom is billing its FTTH announcement, which also covers parts of the major cities, as its “strategic response” to the threat from ESB-Vodafone, raising the prospect of a rollout and price war between both sides as demand for super-speed broadband services picks up in coming years.

Eircom has selected 66 locations across the country for the new “hands up” FTTH service, which will require a sufficient number of customers in a locality to order the service before its engineers will run the fibre directly to buildings.

The network will include parts of the major cities, every county town and major regional urban areas. Work will begin next month on the first three locations in the rollout: Cavan town, Kilkenny city and Letterkenny. Each town will take six months to hook up to the service, and Eircom hopes to launch its first products next summer.

In Dublin, the new service will initially be concentrated on the northside, with Malahide, Portmarnock and Swords among the towns slated to be part of the FTTH rollout, which will take until the end of 2017.

Eircom says it will release a full rollout plan “in due course”, and that the sequencing of towns will be guided by its network planners.

It has already notified the communications regulator and the Government of its intention to offer FTTH services.

“This is our strategic response to the ESB-Vodafone joint venture,” said Richard Moat, Eircom’s acting chief executive. “We will do it where there is demand. There has to be a sufficient number of people who want it. If, for example, 25 people in a housing estate got together and came to us, we would roll it out for them.”

Premium product

He said it would be a “premium product with a premium price attached”.

At the end of August, Eircom announced it was accelerating its normal fibre rollout, which offers speeds of up to 100MB, to 1.6 million homes by the end of 2016.

It will also announce today a further acceleration, promising to hit its target six months ahead of the schedule it set in the summer.

It will announce its plans to test FTTH services in Belcarra in Mayo, to assess the technology’s suitability for providing broadband in rural areas.

Mr Moat, who was Eircom’s chief financial officer under former boss Herb Hribar, is running the company in an acting capacity following Mr Hribar’s departure last month. He confirmed to The Irish Times that he has applied to replace his old boss.

“I’m doing the job on an acting basis and I’m proud to do so. But I’ve indicated to the board that I’d like to do it full-time,” said Mr Moat.