Bridging the digital divide

29 Dec 2009

Broadband is a must-have for everyone in Ireland at present if we are to encourage local entrepreneurship, according to Kevin Ryan, CEO of Satellite Broadband Ireland.

Internet is the future, Satellite Broadband Ireland CEO and co-founder Kevin Ryan believes, and his company is working to connect rural Ireland to the information superhighway that leads to the digital age.

“Broadband is a must-have for everyone now, regardless of where you want to go or what you want to do,” Ryan says.

One group that will benefit from access to satellite broadband is entrepreneurs in rural Ireland. Once online, they will be able to create, develop and maintain their start-up, thereby contributing to economic growth and sustainability.

Starting a business is something Ryan knows a lot about, as he co-founded Satellite Broadband Ireland, an internet service provider that can install satellite broadband, in 2008, with Sean Óg Brennan.

“Broadband, being enabled in the most rural parts of Ireland, will help similar entrepreneurs get online, search the internet, and explore projects themselves,” says Ryan. “It’s basically bridging this digital divide that exists and opening up the whole knowledge economy.”

As part of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) being rolled out by 3, the Mullingar, Co Westmeath-based company will provide satellite broadband services to up to 5–8pc of the 223,000 targeted buildings throughout rural Ireland, Ryan says. The contract 3 awarded to the company has led to the creation of 30 new jobs for the firm.

The NBS sees an estimated €223m investment by 3, of which the Irish Government and the European Union will contribute a maximum of €79.8m, to provide broadband services to the designated electoral districts the scheme covers.

“We created our business model a couple of years ago. We looked at the statistics in Ireland – there was a huge digital divide there,” Ryan says. “Ireland is catching up on the rest of Europe and we hope to make more inroads in this, but as regards broadband, I think it’s the same as electricity, it’s the same as water – it’s a must-have for everyone these days.”

Satellite Broadband Ireland is helping to make that must-have available to those in rural Ireland through Eulestat’s Europa 3 satellite-broadband technology.

“We’re providing a 3.6Mbps service at the minute, which is open to everyone in Ireland, and then in future, the KA-SAT, which is going to be launched mid-next year, will offer minimum speeds starting at 10Mbps going all the way up to next-generation, which is 40 to 50 Mbps,” Ryan explains. “You’re going to have digital services en masse.”

What satellite broadband offers in comparison to fixed-line and mobile broadband is speed, for rates comparable to DSL, says Ryan.

“Historically, satellite was prohibitively expensive and you were only getting speeds of about .5Mbps,” Ryan says. “Satellites, along with LTE, and all these other emerging technologies, are improving day by day – it’s just technology emerging the whole time.”

Interest in Satellite Broadband Ireland has boomed recently, especially since the NBS announcement in the past weeks.

“It’s breaking down these barriers that previously existed with people who might have looked into satellite broadband and saw the prices and saw the speeds, and certainly now they’re beginning to realise that through ourselves we can offer an affordable and viable alternative to DSL,” Ryan says. “We’re seeing a huge take-up now. The hits on our website have tripled and quadrupled in the past couple of weeks. A lot of people are taking it up now – we’re talking from the furthest reaches of Kerry to Donegal or Galway, Achill Island, everywhere. Even in urban areas where you would think that Eircom or normal DSL carriers might be able to provide a service.”

The cost of satellite broadband service to consumers within the NBS areas will be the same price as 3’s NBS mobile broadband service: €19.99 per month, plus a one-time fee of €49 for installation and hardware.

Progress has already been made in connecting rural Irish areas to satellite broadband, says Ryan.

“It’s ongoing – we have teams throughout the whole of Ireland installing. The satellite portion is going to play a part in the most rural, further west and southern regions. We’re installing daily.”

The NBS project is to be completed by 2013, but regarding when he sees a fully connected Ireland, Ryan sees next-generation access coming into play, which, he says, is going to be a combination of fibre-to-the-home, fibre-to-cabinet, LTE and WiMax.

“It’s hard to answer that one,” he says. The NBS is going to roll out the standard speed of what it has been contracted to do, but coming up behind that is the next-generation access, for example, via KA-SAT. “If you were to put a time frame on it, I would say certainly 2012–14, something around that time for next-generation speed, certainly.

“We’re looking to the future the whole time.”

By Tina Costanza

Photo: Damien Gallagher, NBS project director; Kevin Ryan, CEO, Satellite Broadband Ireland; and Sean Óg Brennan, managing director, Satellite Broadband Ireland.