Three makes Arranmore Europe’s most westerly offshore digital hub

17 Apr 2019

From left: Seamus Bonner, Arranmore Business Council; Elaine Carey, Three; Adrian Begley, Arranmore Business Council; and Eoin MacManus, Three. Image: Three Ireland

An island 5km off Europe’s stormy north-west coast is now fully connected to the digital age.

Mobile operator Three Ireland has made the Donegal island of Arranmore one of the most connected places on Earth.

The company worked closely with the community and businesses on the island to turn its distance to a distinct advantage.

A new digital hub – Mol Oifig Digiteach Árainn Mhór (MODAM) – has been established by the Arranmore Business Council complete with remote-working desks and the latest conferencing facilities.

Three partnered with the council and installed a wireless leased line at the hub, as well as a managed local area network (LAN), managed firewall, videoconferencing and teleconferencing. This technology has provided 100Mbps of uncontended broadband. A number of business and remote workers have already started using the hub, which has 13 spaces.

The project also includes Wi-Fi and LAN connectivity at Scoil Athphoirt; broadband routers at Arranmore Co-Op; Wi-Fi hubs and Wi-Fi-enabled paypoints aboard the Arranmore ferry; telemedicine facilities at the island’s medical centre to save patients having to make lengthy trips to see specialists in Letterkenny or Dublin; and broadband connectivity at the Arranmore hostel.

The roll-out also involved new broadband connectivity at Comharchumann Forbartha agus Fostaíochta Árainn Mhór (Arranmore Community Centre) to allow the island’s residents to engage in education outside the classroom, including the island’s CoderDojo, which is one of the earliest CoderDojos and in existence since the movement began in 2011.

Casting a digital lifeline

Three said that until now, the lack of connectivity has made working remotely from the island almost impossible and restricted the ability to establish a business, or for existing businesses on the island to grow.

The Arranmore community of 469 people is progressive and vibrant but faces the same challenges in maintaining its population, as seen across Ireland’s islands. It is understood that 22pc of the population are currently employed, compared to 17pc who are unemployed or looking for their first job. 29pc are retired, with the remaining population in education, unable to work or caring for others.

“MODAM, Ireland’s first offshore digital hub, came about as part of the effort by Arranmore Island Community Council to encourage its diaspora to consider making Arranmore home once more,” said Adrian Begley of Arranmore Business Council.

“In the process of making that connectivity happen we were approached by Three, who not only helped us with the hub, but also improved internet connectivity across the island, which is fantastic for the entire community.”

Three Ireland’s business and enterprise director, Eoin MacManus, said that the process to make Arranmore the most westerly digital hub in Europe began six months ago when the telco became aware that the local community was trying to revive the island.

“We looked at the products and services that we provide to thousands of businesses and enterprises in Ireland,” he said to “The resurgence and revitalisation of any community is about trying to encourage business, and in the modern age the lifeblood of a business is connectivity.”

He said that the aim is to ultimately encourage more people to live on the island by making it possible to work remotely. “We approached this island solution just as we would any large enterprise account: we thought of it as a single business case.

“We worked with the stakeholders in the community, businesses and residents, to figure out requirements. The first thing we did was increase the capacity on the site itself. We also put in fixed mobile broadband in key locations like the primary school, the medical centre and the community centre.

“We put in a wireless leased line to what is the most optical manifestation of this project, the new digital hub, but we also put in a cloud-based phone system called Three Connect, which allows them to do conferencing and videoconferencing as well.”

As a result of the project, he said that businesses and residents can enjoy speeds up to 10 times faster than before.

“It means they can be connected on a continual basis but also it creates a much more convenient means of working or travelling. People who had to travel to Dublin once or twice a month … now they can do that through videoconferencing or telepresence,” MacManus said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years