|Republic of Ireland|
|Products||Cable television, communications|
|Parent||UPC Communications Ireland Ltd.|
Chorus Communications was a communications provider in Ireland, it offered internet, television and telephone services. It was owned by Liberty Global Europe, and ultimately controlled by John C. Malone's Liberty Media. It was based in Limerick, and owns the cable television and MMDS TV licences for most towns in the Republic of Ireland, outside of Dublin, Galway, and Waterford. In 2005 NTL sold its Irish operation to the owners of Chorus Communication and hence Chorus Communications and NTL Ireland became Chorus NTL (later UPC Ireland).
The company was formed in 2000, following the buy out of the CMI Cable operator by Irish Multichannel (Princes Holdings Limited). Irish Multichannel, which was a joint venture between Independent News and Media and TCI (later Liberty Media), had been the product of a series of mergers between several regional companies - most notably East Coast Multichannel, Horizon Multichannel, Cork Communications, and Westward Cable. Irish Multichannel held the MMDS licences for most of the Republic of Ireland other than Dublin, Galway, and Waterford which were held by Cablelink which was to later become NTL Ireland, it also had a fairly extensive cable network in Cork and Limerick. Cable Management Ireland meanwhile was owned by several Irish businessmen. With CMI's network being pure CATV, having been assembled from a number of private providers, it was expected that the new Chorus would have to perform some extreme network consilidation.
Suir-Nore Relays was purchased shortly after the merger. In late 2004, Independent News and Media sold its shares in the company to Liberty Media International. Liberty Media transferred its shareholding in the company to its affiliate, UGC Europe (now called Liberty Global Europe), shortly afterwards. On 12 December 2005 Liberty Global Europe completed its acquisition of the other large Irish cable company, NTL Ireland. The two companies have been integrated into one business originally branded as Chorus NTL but rebranded to UPC Ireland in 2010.
The fractured nature of the network has led to consumers in different areas getting different channel packages, and has led to extreme problems for the customer services team, who often have no idea what channel package a customer has, at least beyond some core channels. Chorus' customer service has often been the subject of much criticism. In November 2004 it was reported that the company came last in a global customer service survey of 64 telecom companies, receiving a score of just 2.6 out of 10 for response times to customer queries from the Customer Respect Index (CRI). Chorus lost significant market share to Sky who launched a more reliable digital satellite service in Ireland in the early 2000s.
Since the formation of the unified company, over €130M has been spent on network infrastructure, including providing fibre and microwave links between regions. This has meant customers who were using CATV in the Community Antenna sense now generally have significantly higher quality signal, although poor transmission networks and high compression on microwave links cause MPEG-esque motion problems, even on analogue links.
As of 2005[update], Chorus provide a bewildering array of services, including analogue MMDS, digital MMDS, analogue and digital cable TV, broadband and dialup internet, and both landline and wireless (not mobile) telephone lines. Some areas which had MMDS from Irish Multichannel also had cable from CMI, and hence have a choice of services, often with one being analogue and the other digital. Official figures from December 2004 show that the company had a reach of 319,000 homes, of which 211,000 have cable or MMDS, 600 have broadband and 500 have telephone services. The future looks bleak for their MMDS operations after BBC and ITV services went free to air on satellite. These channels were often seen as the main reason for keeping its analogue service, and were a major factor in Chorus' marketing.
The Chorus Digital package was launched on 2 October 2000. It offers a standard line-up in all areas, although it is geared towards the MMDS rather than cable platform, and thus offers a rather smaller line-up than the larger capacity of cable would normally allow. Alongside the traditional terrestrial channels, channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BSkyB, Flextech, and others are carried. The Irish national channels are offered via MMDS on digital for the first time - on analogue MMDS, only TV3 is required to be carried, because analogue MMDS in Ireland offers a maximum of 12 channels. Unlike NTL, Chorus has not yet discontinued its analogue MMDS service.
From 2000-2007, Chorus offered the Chorus Sports Channel, which mainly specialises in Gaelic Athletic Association coverage; although this channel was put on many analogue links at the expense of Deutsche Welle. The channel was closed in January 2007.
With the exception of Cork, the company (like NTL Ireland) carries the basic channel pack on all analogue cable links unencrypted, to save on decoder equipment. Premium channels - some of Sky Sports and Sky Movies are always available, with more movies and the Fantasy Channel in some areas - use a simple image rotation system that is similar to 1980s satellite TV systems.
In May 2005, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland announced that it was issuing Chorus with a ten-year broadcasting contract for a cable and MMDS television channel, to replace Chorus Sports, to carry documentaries, arts programming, and a large quantity of sport, although with the remit being expanded to cover motor sports. Had this channel launched when initially licenced, it would have been the first Irish general-purpose channel specifically for closed-access systems, although City Channel has beaten it to this. The licensing documents refer to it as Chorus TV throughout. The forthcoming rebranding as UPC Ireland and the closure of the existing Chorus Sports Channel make it unlikely the channel will be launched in the form, or at least under the name intended.
Analogue and digital MMDS services are available from a transmitter on Woodcock Hill.
Limerick's cable TV system descends from Westward Cable (later Irish Multichannel) and installation of the network began in the early 1980s. This covers most of the city as far as Castletroy on the south side and Caherdavin on the north side. Unfortunately it never reached some areas of the city (such as around Clare Street), and most housing developments built since then have not been linked to the network. As of 2006[update] only analogue CATV is available on the system, with 18 unencrypted channels (including Channel 6 and Chorus TV) and some encrypted channels (such as Sky Sports 1 and Sky Movies 1) - customers are supplied with cumbersome old Jerrold/General Instrument decoders to avail of these extra channels. Signal quality varies greatly in areas, and is often quite poor due to the age of the cables and related equipment. MPEG compression artefacts are also noticeably high on some channels which are sourced from digital MMDS signals. Interruption of service is also quite frequent. Channels previously on VHF Band I frequencies were recently moved to Band III positions - this is to make way for the introduction of the cable broadband service.
Digital cable television and broadband services have slowly been introduced across the city since late 2006.
In May 2005, Morgan Stanley bought the Irish assets of NTL, on behalf of Chorus' owners UGC Europe (now Liberty Global Europe), with the intention of selling them on to Liberty once a Competition Authority investigation had been completed.
NTL Ireland included a certain amount of fibre backbone, and a cable network (digital is available throughout most of the network, but the vast majority of customers still take just analogue) that covers the areas of Dublin, Galway, and Waterford for which Chorus are not licenced. NTL also offer broadband to a higher number of subscribers, and did offer a telephone service, which was removed after it was revealed that the handsets they used could catch fire. NTL also own the remaining MMDS licences (for cells covering counties Dublin, Galway, Mayo, and Waterford).
On 12 December 2005, Liberty Global Europe completed its acquisition of NTL Ireland, which became part of the UPC Broadband group within Liberty.
It is assumed that Liberty will merge NTL and Chorus, under their UPC (for television) and Chello (for internet) brands, and continue to consolidate their network. The company formed to acquire the network from Morgan Stanley is "UPC Ireland N.V.", fuelling speculation this will be the eventual name. A combined company would own all the MMDS licences and almost all the cable licences in the Republic of Ireland (the local networks in Dungarvan, County Waterford and Longford town being the only major exception). They have announced that $200 million is to be spent replacing all coaxial trunk with fibre and upgrading all cable into homes with cable capable of carrying signals up to 850 MHz. This is claimed to be able to carry multi-channel cable and 30 Mbit/s internet concurrently.
From December 2006, Chorus began running NTL Ireland's customer service from Limerick, in line with UPC's merger of the two companies. On 22 March 2007, Chorus changed its digital cable line up to a subset of NTL Ireland's line up, using the same EPG numbering system as NTL. The MMDS lineup is still unchanged.
Chorus was renamed as UPC Ireland in 2010, along with its sister company NTL Ireland. In preparation for this, from July 2007 advertising for both companies began using a composite logo reading "Chorus NTL - A UPC Company".