Eir Group plc., trading as Eir, is a fixed, mobile and broadband telecommunications company in Ireland, and a former state-owned monopoly, which is currently incorporated in Jersey. It is the largest telecommunications operator in the Republic, with a division to service the business and corporate telecom markets in Northern Ireland and Britain. As Bord Telecom Éireann, the company was state-owned until 1999, when it was floated on the Irish and New York Stock Exchanges.
Eir operates the fixed-line telephone network, an LTE (4G), HSDPA (3G) and GSM/EDGE (2.75G) mobile telephone network Eir Mobile and acts as an internet service provider (ISP) eircom.net. As of Q1 2013, Eircom had 54% market share of fixed voice lines; 40% market share of fixed broadband; 11% of mobile broadband; and 17% of mobile. By late 2007 Eircom added their 500,000th DSL subscriber but broadband share may have fallen to 44% due to growth of fixed wireless, cable and fibre services.
Its main competitors are Virgin Media Ireland (which operates a cable TV & Broadband network), Vodafone Ireland (which bought BT Ireland's residential customer base on 22nd July 2009 and is accessed through Eir's network and BT Ireland's fibre), Imagine Communications (Irish Broadband & Gaelic Telecom) and Magnet Networks and Smart Telecom, with a mix of LLU/GLUMP from Eircom and fibre.
Eir operates the largest fixed-line telecommunications network in the Republic of Ireland, under licence from the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). Most homes and businesses in the state are dependent on their network. A range of telecommunications services is provided on the network including Business IP, its MPLS platform. Eir have also completed a wholly owned fibre network ring around Northern Ireland and another around Belfast. Their ISP division, Eir Net, provides dial-up services, as well as broadband services (see broadband roll-out, below). Any alarm-monitoring products using SMS are "hardcoded" to work with Eir's SMSC, so will not work on Digiweb, BT, Smart, UPC or Magnet phone networks. DECT SMS handsets are also preprogrammed for Eir's SMSC. Any competing phone service that is not just carrier pre-selection (CPS) of Eir must provide their own SMSC, but even when they do, consumers may be unable to migrate from Eir due to SMSC numbers in equipment that cannot be reprogrammed.
Eir's mobile arm, EirMobile, provides a full range of HSPA (3G) and GSM-based mobile communication services throughout the Republic of Ireland. Its GSM network operates at 1800 MHz and 900 MHz ranges, as the earlier GSM licences fully utilised the 900 MHz band. GPRS and EDGE data services are also available. EirMobile provide both bill-pay (contract) and pre-pay (non-contract) plans and has approximately 19% of the Irish mobile market, with 1,032,000 cellular subscribers on the EirMobile network. The company has used EDGE technology on its network and has received a 3G (UMTS) license, formally removed from Eir's competitor, Smart Telecom.
As an operator with significant market power, Eir is required to provide a number of wholesale products to other operators and to switch calls onto other phone networks. Many broadband products offered by other operators are resales of the Eir product.
A series of telephone directories is distributed annually to all households in the Republic of Ireland. The online version is available at http://eirphonebook.ie. The six annual directories list numbers in the local dialling area (01, 02, 04, 05, 06 or 07/09), regardless of whether the telephone service to the number is provided by Eir or by one of its competitors. Mobile numbers are not listed. ComReg has designated Eir as the organisation that has the obligation to provide a National Directory Database (NDD) and a Universal White Pages (UWP) directory; the unit within Eir responsible for providing these is the National Directory Information Unit (NDIU).
The company was formed in 1984 as Bord Telecom Éireann, under the Posts and Telecommunications Act 1983. (This article deals mainly with the post-privatisation Eir; for details of the company during its time as a state-sponsored body, see Telecom Éireann.) From 1991 to 2013, Eir's subsidiaries included Phonewatch, then known as Eircom Phonewatch, which provides home monitoring services, monitored burglar-alarms, fire alarms, CCTV systems, and medical alert devices. In May 2013, it announced that Phonewatch had been sold to Oslo-based company, Sector Alarm Corporation.
Although EU laws required the opening of the Irish telecommunications market, Ireland had a derogation from competition until 2003. Telecom Éireann was privatised, this was very controversial and subject to much debate. The process began in 1995, and by July 1999 the government had disposed of virtually all of its shareholding. Eircom plc was then floated on the Irish, London and New York Stock Exchanges on 8 July 1999, and small/first-time investors were encouraged by the Irish Government to buy shares. The share price was set at €3.90, later reaching a high of €4.80, a 23% increase. Those initial investors who held onto their shares, until July 2000, received a 4% bonus-share allocation.
The Eircom flotation is considered to have been an example of a stock market bubble — after the initial hype of the flotation died down, the stock price fell rapidly. Many of the 500,000 small investors were angered by the significant financial loss they incurred, blaming the government for not sufficiently warning them of the risks inherent in stock-market investment.
Since privatisation, Eir's penetration of landlines has fallen from 82% to 69%. During this period, there has been a large increase in mobile phone ownership and a significant rise in line rental to the highest in Europe.
In 2001, Eircom sold its mobile subsidiary Eircell to Vodafone. The company was transferred to a separate entity, Eircell 2000 plc which was then sold to Vodafone through a share swap. Eircom shareholders got Eircell share in a 1000/1 ratio. The conversion rate was then 0.9478 Vodafone shares for every 2 Eircell 2000 shares. This left the Eircom shareholder with shares in both Eircom and Vodafone.
After the sale of Eircell, Eircom itself was believed to be undervalued and became the subject of a bidding war between two consortia: the E-Island consortium headed by Denis O'Brien, and the Valentia Consortium headed by Tony O'Reilly, the chairman of Independent News and Media. Eventually in November 2001, the company agreed to a recommended offer of €1.335 per Eircom share. Eircom Plc was delisted from the stock exchange, became Eircom Limited, a private limited company by shares and a subsidiary of Valentia, and O'Reilly took the reins as Executive chairman (a role he pursued with vigour, even holding management meetings at his Castlemartin home).
On 19 March 2004, the company returned to the stock market (although the company being listed, Eircom Group plc, was in fact a new holding company, and was registered in England and Wales rather than the Republic of Ireland). The company floated at €1.55 a share, but dipped on initial trading before recovering to trade above its float price.
In early 2005, several Irish newspapers reported that Meteor Mobile Communications, the third mobile phone operator, was up for sale by its owners, Western Wireless. It was considered that this afforded Eircom an opportunity to re-enter the mobile communications market. On 9 July 2005, The Irish Times reported three bidders for Meteor: Eircom, Smart Telecom, and a consortium led by Denis O'Brien. On 14 July 2005 RTÉ News reported on their business website that Denis O'Brien had withdrawn from bidding, and that it was understood that Eircom was the top bidder at €410 million. On 21 July, it was announced that Smart Telecom had also withdrawn, leaving Eircom as the sole bidder. Eircom announced the agreement to purchase it on 25 July 2005 at a cost of €420m. As of 31 December 2012, Meteor had over 1,086,000 customers and a market share of 20%, offering both GSM and 3G mobile telephony and broadband services.
In May 2006, Eircom announced its sale to the Australian investment group Babcock and Brown as part of a deal worth €2.4 billion. The Employee Share Ownership Trust, which represents workers at the company, was to remain a minority shareholder. The sale was approved by shareholders on 26 July 2006, and at close of business on 17 August 2006, the shares were delisted from the Official Lists of the Irish Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange, ending Eircom's second period on the stock markets. The same day, Phillip Nolan resigned as chief executive of Eircom, and on 1 September Rex Comb was officially named as the new CEO. Tony O'Reilly resigned as chairman and was replaced by Pierre Danon, previously of BT Group plc and JP Morgan Chase. Babcock and Brown have since collapsed as a company and their BCM vehicle, which owns over 50% of Eir, broke all ties with the former parent and rebranded themselves as Eircom Holdings Limited.
In September 2015, Eircom announced that it would re-brand as Eir as part of a new imaging campaign developed by Moving Brands. Described as being "dynamic and modern", the new brand was adopted across most of Eircom's businesses (excluding Meteor), and an advertising campaign was introduced to promote the new name and slogan, "Live Life on Eir".
Eir Sport commenced broadcasting on 5 July 2016 following the takeover of Setanta Sports by Eir. Two Irish commercial stations, Eir Sport 1 (formerly Setanta Ireland) and Eir Sport 2 (formerly Setanta Sports 1), join BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, BT Sport Europe and BT Sport ESPN to make up the 6 channel Eir Sport pack. Setanta Sports was formed in 1990 to facilitate the broadcasting of Irish sporting events to international audiences.
As part of their mobile strategy, Eir launched eMobile, a complementary service to the now discontinued Meteor division (mainly used by residential wireless customers). Eir Mobile is a former pseudo-mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) which uses the now discontinued Meteor branded network for its services to residential & business customers, to complement the residential and business mobile services offered by Meteor. In September 2017, Meteor Mobile was merged into the Eir Mobile operation by its parent, Eir. The company said in a statement "By focusing on a single mobile brand and reducing the duplication of supporting two brands, we can offer better value and increased innovation." As of September 2017, Eir Mobile has 96% 4G coverage, as well as 99% 3G population coverage. Eir also use 4G+, available in many cities and urban areas, to increase data speeds and capacity. Eir Mobile also utilises Wifi calling to allow customers to call & text over a Wi-Fi connection when mobile coverage is limited.
Eir Business Ireland is the corporate and SME operations in the Republic of Ireland. Eir Business have sponsored major Irish sporting events including the 'Dubai Duty Free Irish Open' in the K Club. Having secured significant business contracts with Druids Glen an internationally recognised Golf Resort in Co. Wicklow. Providing business solutions to Public bodies including University College Dublin (UCD), Ordnance Survey Ireland and Dublin City Council.
Eir Business NI is the name of the company's operations in Northern Ireland. With the division based in Belfast, Eir own and operate a fibre-optic network ring around Belfast and Northern Ireland, linking into the national Eir Network in the rest of Ireland. Eir Business NI have won significant contracts thus far, the largest being the €70m "Network NI" contract for the Northern Ireland Civil Service, with other significant contracts as operator of choice for Northern Ireland Schools and Libraries, NIE, Viridian, Wright Group, Chain Reaction Cycles and many more large enterprise brands. The company in Northern Ireland provides services to local government and SME sectors.
As Eircom, Eir joined a consortium with TV3 Group, Arqiva,and Setanta Sports called OneVision to apply for the Commercial licence for DTT. On 1 May 2009 Fintan Drury, chairman of the OneVision consortium, announced that OneVision was to enter negotiations with the BCI, with the view to take over operations of the Irish pay DTT service. It was hoped that the launch of OneVision would happen in late 2010/early 2011 at a proposed operation cost of €40 million. OneVision aspired to offer 23 channels coinciding with the free-to-air channels. However, OneVision subsequently dropped out of negotiations with the BCI.
In 2013 Eir began providing a TV service along with its Eir Fibre service called Eir Vision.
Eir retains a virtual monopoly of around 70% on fixed-line telephony in the State (the only exceptions being those operated by UPC Ireland cable company (formerly NTL Ireland and Chorus), Digiweb Metro and some fibre offerings from BT, Magnet Networks, Smart and Digiweb). Chorus had offered wireless telephony but failed to renew their licence. Eir is required to allow carrier pre-selection (CPS). Introduced in Ireland in 2001, CPS allows subscribers to use an alternative provider for all their calls, without the need to dial indirect access codes or numbers, although they still receive a bill from Eir for line rental. Under a wholesale line rental scheme, it is possible for customers, to have a single bill from an alternative provider, for example, Vodafone, including the cost of Eir line rental, rather than continuing to receive a separate one from Eir for this cost. Unlike the UK, where BT's competitors now can charge less than BT for line rental, it is not yet possible for operators in Ireland to buy the lines from Eir and charge their own rate for line rental, should they wish.
After the privatisation of Eircom, the highly profitable mobile phone division, Eircell, was sold to Vodafone. Some[who?] consider this act to be asset stripping by the large investors with interests in Eircom.
Eircom announced in June 2007 that from 30 July line rental charges would increase by €1.18 bringing line rental charges – already the most expensive in Europe to a total of €25.36 per month for a PSTN analogue line, one source indicated it was the highest line-rental charge in the world. Also announced was an increase of between 4.8 and 4.9% on local and national calls.
On 21 April 2008, Eircom rejected claims by four major record companies that it, as the largest broadband internet service provider in the State, must bear some liability for the illegal free downloading of music by computer users. Eir have thus far managed to come to an agreement with the companies involved, stating that they will be working in conjunction with these companies to prevent large amounts of copyrighted material being shared through the ISP. This in turn raised concerns over internet privacy, since presumably this would be enforced through the monitoring of IP traffic associated with Eir's customers. It is not known whether or not this bears any significance on the Meteor Mobile network, a mobile broadband supplier[when?] acquired by Eir. Eircom has reportedly signed an out-of-court settlement with said companies and are initiating a program to clamp down on piracy, within their network, by instituting an IP monitoring service, accessible by the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) and allowing up to three warnings before disconnection of service.
As of 5 December 2013, Eir users who try to access The Pirate Bay receive the following message:
Since September 2009, the Pirate Bay website have remained blocked by Eircom.
Eircom agreed to a controversial deal with the IRMA to activate a "three strikes system" so that users would be banned from the Internet for seven days if they appeared to be downloading copyrighted content through peer to peer filesharing networks.
Eircom notified the public in February 2012 that they had decided to no longer honour their debt, had entered default status and would not continue as a going concern. Eircom gave notification that they had cancelled a mandatory interest payment on their publicly-traded senior corporate bond, then due to mature in 2016.