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Realising the transformative potential of 5G

Three Ireland boss believes 5G tech will be key to State’s post-Covid economic recovery

Remote working and positioning Ireland as an innovation island are two of the dominant themes of the Government's vision for the post-coronavirus economic recovery. Both depend on world-leading connectivity across the country. The National Broadband Plan will meet part of this need but with completion not expected until 2027, the near-term impact will be slight. Eóin MacManus, chief business officer at Three Ireland, believes 5G will be a defining tool in Ireland's arsenal to help the country recover faster and deliver greater prosperity in the years to come.

"The last 10 years have seen the rollout of 4G, enabling the world we know today and greatly aiding Ireland's ability to work through and survive this pandemic," says MacManus. "Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Netflix have all played key roles, yet 10 years ago we did not have the connectivity to use these communications tools at the scale which we have grown to expect. For example, the entire connectivity needs of my family of five with two video remote working parents and three teenagers are satisfied with one mobile broadband connection."

He points to a recent report by Amarach Research which described 5G as a general purpose technology similar to electricity and the electric motor. "If we consider the impact electricity or cars have had on our lives, it should give us an idea of the opportunity 5G can offer," he adds.

Connectivity capabilities

“The consensus among economists is that 5G has a huge multiplier effect. Every euro spent directly on 5G capacity on infrastructure, networks and so on, generates over €2.50 in extra benefits to businesses, consumers, and government. For us in Three, we recognise the potential it offers to Ireland and that’s why it’s important for us that Ookla, the worldwide authority on coverage tests, has verified our network as the fastest in in the country.”

Ireland is doing quite well when it comes to 5G capacity and digital capability, according to MacManus. "Based on coverage analysis from internet quality measurement specialist nPerf and the Digital Economy and Society Index Ireland ranks number six in Europe, and we compete favourably against many of our competitors. We should not get complacent, however. As every country maps the road to recovery from Covid-19 in an increasingly digital and remote society, it is crucial that Ireland maintains and accelerates its connectivity capabilities, or we risk falling behind and failing our collective potential."

The opportunities presented by 5G are not just for large technology companies, but for Irish SMEs throughout the country. “For many of these SMEs, connectivity truly is their lifeblood, they cannot wait until 2027 for faster speeds, missing the opportunity is simply not an option. Let me crystallise this opportunity beyond faster speeds and quicker streaming. The real impact of 5G is in lower latency and what this means for industries and technology.”

Lower latency means a reduction in delays and near instantaneous connectivity with none of those annoying delays you get on Zoom calls. That will bring benefits to a range of sectors.

"Take healthcare for example. Telemedicine and telehealth are expected to transform the management and delivery of primary and preventative healthcare, with Amarach Research identifying an addressable market value of $147 billion (€125 billion) in 2030. The entertainment industry can also look forward to a new era, with Ericsson forecasting a 5G addressable market worth $73 billion (€62 billion) by 2030 as enhanced entertainment and media solutions become available, including virtual reality and augmented reality, especially e-sports."

He says the possibilities in transport are endless. “It’s estimated that by 2025 or sooner, all new cars will be connected to the internet, providing a basis for autonomous vehicles. Put this together with public transport services and we could see new significant efficiencies in traffic management, for the benefit of our cities and environment.”

5G rollout

And the 5G rollout continues at pace in Ireland despite Covid-19. “At Three we have launched in every county, with more 5G sites coming on every week,” says MacManus. “Maintaining this momentum will mean that as 5G solutions are developed and as the internet of things (IoT) becomes more accessible, Irish businesses can take advantage of the opportunities the technology presents, whether it is smart manufacturing, augmented reality learning or autonomous vehicles.

“While history might suggest Irish people do not respond well to new technologies, it is positive to see that the recent research has shown the majority of people in Ireland are enthusiastic about the potential benefits of 5G.”

He advises Irish businesses to take maximum advantage of 5G availability. “As businesses across the country consider how they can recover from Covid-19 and Brexit and position themselves for growth, I would encourage them to put digitisation at the heart of that strategy. Whether it is the opportunity to evolve your manufacturing through IoT, to enhance your customer experience through improved latency and less drop off, or introduce connected devices to reduce your energy consumption, the potential is real, and the impact is immense. I have seen what 4G connectivity can do, let’s see what 5G can do for Irish businesses.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times