Plan B for rural broadband
Sir, – Cliff Taylor (“Time for a Plan B for rural broadband”, Opinion & Analysis, October 13th) urges the Government to ditch private partners and go it alone, taking on the whole €1.5 billion cost up-front and hoping for a payback later. The voters demand it, he says, and this is at the crux of things.
The fact is that the NBP only exists at all because 38 per cent of voters live outside of towns. It has never made sense technologically or economically to provide fibre broadband outside of large population centres.
It has only ever made political sense.
The 5G mobile broadband can provide up to 1 giga-bit per second data transfer speeds for users – compared with between 20 and 360 mega bps for fibre, ie one to two orders of magnitude faster. Three acquired a 5G licence earlier this year and plans to begin rolling this out to customers next year. The expensive infrastructure planned under the NBP stands a reasonable risk of being obsolete before it is even activated – which is one reason it has been so hard to find private companies to invest with the Government.
Mobile broadband is considerably cheaper to install and has the advantage of covering large areas without the necessity for a fixed connection, thus serving drivers (or drones or autonomous cars), or people working outdoors in fields or even at sea, as well as hill-walkers and campers, or even people who would like to work on the beach rather than at home.
At present the quality of mobile broadband outside of our large towns is patchy, with many transmitters not up to the latest standards or of insufficient capacity, and there are too few of them in sparsely populated areas. This is because mobile telephony has for 20 years been an exclusively private and for-profit business.
If the NBP administrators were to go back to first principles and look at mobile options, we might find that “rural” broadband could be delivered twice as quickly to twice as many and at half the cost of fibre. Perhaps that is the “Plan B” the Government should be looking at. – Yours, etc,