Technology choice could limit broadband service
The Government should consider carefully the technologies it is investing in as part of its bid to improve high-speed internet access around the State, a new report from the Western Development Commission has warned.
The report also stresses the dangers of a “three-speed” Ireland developing as areas covered by the National Broadband Scheme fall behind more populated areas of the State when it comes to broadband speeds, leaving businesses and consumers at a disadvantage in developing an online economy.
The Government’s broadband plan, which covers the introduction of next generation internet access around the State, aims to have a minimum speed of 30Mbps (megabits per second) available to everyone. At least half of the population should have access to speeds of 70-100Mbps and a further 20 per cent should be able to access 40Mbps broadband.
The ambitious targets will require an investment by the Government of €200 million, matched by private companies.
Although the agency has welcomed the Government’s commitment to rolling out the high-speed services, the report’s author, Deirdre Frost, said it had concerns about the technologies chosen to meet the commitment.
“That funding has to deliver an awful lot in terms of getting that 30Mb service to all those outlying regional and rural locations,” she said. “There are technological developments, so things may change.”
Ms Frost said the figure suggested that those areas would be served by a wireless service, although that would only be confirmed when the department carried out a detailed mapping exercise.
“The report is trying to highlight that there are implications for State investment and future government policy if we are limiting ourselves to investing only in wireless networks.”
Although the spectrum for next generation mobile services has been awarded, clearing the way for Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile services, Ms Frost said the State should be investing in “future-proof” technology such as fibre.
“While technology has improved, wireless networks do not provide the same future- proofed investment that fibre would. Next generation networks are such a long-term investment that for the benefit of a State return, it would make sense to invest in the most future-proofed technology.”
Urban areas are currently serviced by providers such as UPC and Eircom supplying fibre networks and services with speeds as high as 150Mbps. However, many of the rural locations covered by the national broadband strategy are in the west of the country.
“If that is the standard in those urban areas now with the fibre connectivity and the standard for many other areas would be 30Mbps, without further investment in technologies the outlook seems to be a three-speed Ireland, rather than even a two-speed Ireland that we have today.”
This would have a knock-on affect for businesses in the area, and for local economies trying to attract multinationals and other investment to the region.
A recent study for the European Commission found that only 36 per cent of homes in Ireland can get access to next generation services of up to 30Mbps per second. That is below the European average of 50 per cent and places Ireland 25th place out of 29 European countries.
However, basic broadband is available to more than 97 per cent of the population, with 94 per cent of people in rural areas already covered.