EU Competition

The European Union commenced the process of liberalisation of the telecommunication texture in the early 1990s. The purpose was that the market should be fully opened up to competition by 1998. so that businesses could provide services in all telecommunication areas. In order to protect areas where it would be uneconomic to provide a service, requirements for universal service were part of the EU strategy.

In the 1990s, the government adopted the policy of opening up competition in the telecommunication sector in accordance with EU legislation. The Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1996 allowed for a private shareholding in Telecom Éireann. The Act established the office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. ComReg was established under the Communications Regulation Act 2002.

In 2002, the EU revised the regulatory regime and adopted a series of directives. These are undertaken in the context of very rapidly developing technology, and new systems of communications, including, in particular, mobile telephony. Subscribers may use an alternative provider for calls.


Esat Telecom was found in 1990 as a private company. It was the first domestic competitor for Telecom Éireann Eireann, having obtained a limited licence.Initially competition was limited to segments of the market

Competition for residential customers was opened in December 1998. The first to enter the market was Esat Telecom followed by Ocean,a  joint venture between the ESB and British Telecom and a TV operator. Customers paid a bill for usage and a bill to Telecom for line rental

Telecom Éireann became Eircom plc in 1999. It was later split into Eircell (2000) plc, the mobile business and Eircom plc to fix line business. Eircell plc was sold to Vodafone in 2001 and later became known as Vodafone Ireland.

Privitisatiton of Eircom

Eircom plc was floated in the Irish Stock Exchange London and New York Stock Exchange in 1999. Although its initial public offering saw the price rise by 20%, the stock price fell rapidly in the context of the bursting of the so-called tech bubbles in late 2000/  2001.

The public enthusiastically subscribed, inspired by the belief that the then “dotcom” rush would yield a certain and quick profit on the basis of the government having underpriced the offering, to ensure its success. The initial offering was a success in that it was fully subscribed. The Irish government had sold its entire 50.1 per cent stake in the company because of strong demand for the shares. To help bolster employee dedication to Eircom, 14.9 per cent of the company was reserved in an Employee Share Ownership Plan

The privatization had been expected by the government to present an opportunity for a wider public to become shareholders. The Ultimately unfavourable market conditions after the busting of the dotcom bubble the following year, caused the share price to fall well below the IPO price. No subsequent flotation of a major State asset has taken place.

Mobile Telephony

Eircell commenced in 1986 as the Mobile and Broadcast division of Telecom Éireann. “088” -prefix was thee initial analogue TACS system. The digital GSM system GMSM network went live in 1993, with the “087” prefix.

Eircell Ltd became a separate subsidiary in 1997. Vodafone made an offer to Eircell’s parent company Eircom plc which de-merged from Eircom to become Eircell 2000 plc ultimately a Vodafone Ireland plc.

Eircom remains a leading fixed line operator,  retaining approximately [70%] of the fixed-line market. Eircom sold its mobile subsidiary Eircell to Vodafone

Mobile Competition

In 1995, the State auctioned the second mobile franchise.  Esat Telecom in conjunction with Telenor AB successfully did for the second GSM mobile telecommunications license. The operator became known as Esat Digifone.

Esat Digifone group plc was listed in the Irish London and NASDAQ Stock exchanges. Esat entered the internet service provider market in 1999 with the purchase of EUnet Ireland which became Esat Net. It acquired Ireland online from An Post and became the largest ISP provider in the country for a period.

British Telecom made a takeover offer back by Esat Board and Esat thereby became a subsidiary of BT. It was de-listed from the stock market. Ultimately it was re-branded as BT Ireland.

Esat Digifone, the GSM mobile network became part of BT Wireless and was eventually spun off as O2. This was bought the Spanish company Telefónica in 2005.

Eircom post-2000

After the sale of Eircell, Eircom was believed to be undervalued and became the subject to a bidding war between a consortium led by E-Ireland/Denis O’Brien (founder of Esat) and Valentia Consortium headed by Tony O’Reilly, Chairman of Independent News and Media.

Eventually, the Valentia Consortium purchased the company and Eircom plc was de-listed. The remaining small private shareholders were compulsorily acquired under the Companies Act procedure.

The company returned to the stock market as Eircom Group plc in 2004. In 2005, it acquired Meteor Mobile, the third mobile phone operator from Western Wireless.

Eircom launched e-mobile complimentary to its media division, as a network, virtual operator offering services to residential and business customers.

Eircom was sold to the Australian investment group Babcock & Brown in 2006. The employee share option trust remained a significant minority shareholder.

The remainder of the fixed-line market in Ireland is operated by UPC Ireland, the cable company formally NTL and Chorus. Digiweb Metro and fibre offerings from BT, Magnet Network,  Smart and Digiweb also participate in the market.


Higher speed wireless data connections facilitating the internet was rolled out across the country. Voice over the internet port technology began to challenge mobile and fixed-line operators.

Eircom was one the largest broadband internet provider. Eircom exchanges deliver broadband within three miles of its exchange. However, It did not invest in fiber optics.


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Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

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