Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said that next-generation telecoms infrastructure and alternative new energy solutions will help provide the economic stimulus the Irish economy needs in the absence of financial levers.
Speaking at the UCD Smurfit Business School’s Digital Landscapes conference at the O’Reilly Hall UCD, Ryan said: “If we don’t start to get stimulus into economy we will not contract out of the present situation. Fear itself is leading to ongoing contraction. (We) don’t have the monetary leavers, so we need to stimulate.
“I am fortunate to be in the department that is in the spend-and-lend business – by putting investment in and get going on broadband and electricity infrastructures, because they are vital for the future.”
The term ‘smart economy’
Ryan admitted that people are "jaded" by terms like the smart economy because it doesn’t answer banking and budgetary questions, but at the same time there is a recognition that the future of the country depends on trading with the rest of the world and becoming more efficient at what we do.
Ryan said there are a number of value propositions that Ireland has and where it can lead as country, including exports, food, energy, high-tech, medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, financial services, tourism and in particular creative services based on high-speed broadband.
“Technology, people and culture – we need to develop new creative industries that will be main employers of tomorrow.
“Broadband is the crucial piece of infrastructure – networks and bandwidth will be more important than any other piece of infrastructure – it is the transport system for data that we are going to need to be ahead of the curve.”
Ryan acknowledged that politically Ireland hasn’t acknowledged the opportunity. “Unfortunate circumstances around private ownership of key companies has held us back. But I now have the sense that we are not as held back. It is now a more competitive market and competition and an open market in this area is a good policy approach.”
Broadband operators battle it out
He said that while it is still to be decided which broadband technologies will win out – LTE, WiMax, fibre – it is good policy to allow operators to battle and compete.
“The change from voice to data is as fundamental as move from radio to TV in the 21st century. If you look at the data volumes on mobile networks, we have no choice but to invest in next-generation infrastructure.
“The same choice exists for network companies to go from 20Mbps to 50Mbps and beyond, just like the move from a black-and-white TV world to colour TV. We will have to go into colour because customers will want that.”
He said it is paramount that the regulator, ComReg, makes the conditions ideal for companies to make these investments.
“But Government has its role, too – we need to invest in our own services and go out to schools and provide 100Mbps connectivity on an open-market basis. The first 80 schools as we speak are being enabled. We need to be ambitious around putting fibre-optic ducting in roads network.”
Ryan said that communications infrastructure will be central to areas that Ireland is ambitious about for the future, such as future vehicles.