Vodafone and energy company ESB have signed a joint venture agreement to invest €450 million in building a fibre-to-the-building broadband network in Ireland.

In a European first, the fibre will be deployed on ESB’s existing overhead and underground infrastructure.

ESB, which finances, builds and maintains the Irish State’s electricity infrastructure, has a turnover of €3 billion and invests approximately €1 billion per annum in capex.

The new network will initially reach 500,000 premises in 50 towns by 2018 with the first people expected to be online at the start of next year.

The two companies said there is “scope for a second phase” should the initial deployment go well. In addition, they said open access will be offered to all telecoms operators in Ireland on a wholesale basis. The entire project is subject to approval from the European Commission.

According to Irish regulator ComReg, 43 percent of the country’s fixed broadband customers receive speeds of less than 10 Mbps currently. The new network will offer speeds from 200 Mbps to 1000 Mbps, propelling Ireland into the ranks of the world’s fastest broadband countries.

Anne O’Leary, Vodafone Ireland CEO, commented: “With the number of devices per household anticipated to almost double over the next four years and more bandwidth-hungry services being developed, this new broadband service will enable a whole range of new services to be offered to Irish customers in the future from entertainment, security, teleworking to web-based gaming or home automation.”

Pat Rabbitte, Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, added: “[The announcement] is a very exciting step in ensuring that regional towns can enjoy similar levels of connectivity to our cities, benefiting local business and helping to attract investment.”

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