BT Retail targets Ireland

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The Independent Online

BT's Ian Livingston aims to grow the company's operation in Ireland into a billion-pound business under the nose of his predecessor Pierre Danon who is now executive chairman of Irish telecom company Eircom.

Mr Livingston, previously finance director of BT, took over as head of BT Retail in February 2005 after the French executive left BT for IT services company Capgemini.

At that stage BT Retail was struggling to offset the impact of rapidly declining residential voice prices and was bracing itself for increased competition in the broadband and directories markets. Yet the mood is entirely different nearly two years on after Mr Livingston raised profit guidance for the retail unit. Earnings should grow around three times the rate that analysts expected at the start of the year and are expected to continue to grow next year.

"BT Retail has turned itself around and is set for future profit growth," Mr Livingston said.

The company is targeting growth across the Irish Sea and expects to derive £1bn in revenue from Ireland within five years.

BT Retail is the dominant operator in Northern Ireland and is keenly competing in the Republic. It derives around £700m a year in revenue from the island. Danny McLaughlin, head of the Irish unit, said the market in the Republic was "under-developed and under-served" and that out-of-date regulation of the telecoms market has stifled broadband growth. He said that BT is winning around 35 per cent of new broadband customers in the Republic.

Mr Livingston added that BT is targeting 30 per cent growth in its business services unit despite competition from rivals like Carphone Warehouse that offer small businesses free broadband.

Bob Murphy, head of BT's business unit, said: "Businesses understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch."