1,000km of motorway fibre ducting rolled out, says Broadband Taskforce

20 Feb 2019

Image: © Dorota/Stock.adobe.com

The work of taking frictions out of broadband delivery and removing blackspots in Ireland remains a priority.

The Irish Government-sponsored Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce will report today (20 February) that progress was made in deploying 1,000km worth of ducting along Ireland’s roadways to enable operators to deploy infrastructure.

According to the report, a copy of which has been seen by Siliconrepublic.com, the taskforce – an amalgam of telecoms companies, local county councils and Irish Government departments aimed at removing the frictions of rolling out infrastructure – also revealed that work has begun on a pilot project to tackle coverage blackspots.

“The report contained 40 actions aimed at accelerating the delivery of telecoms infrastructure by commercial operators and also at facilitating the roll-out of the State-led Intervention under the National Broadband Plan,” said Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development Seán Canney, TD.

The Department of Rural Affairs is co-funding a pilot blackspot project in Malinbeg with Vodafone and Donegal County Council. It is hoped that the learnings from this project will directly contribute to a revised approach to addressing mobile phone blackspots in rural Ireland in 2019 that will encompass all 31 local authorities.

In terms of tackling coverage issue for mobile consumers, the report confirmed that two of the three mobile operators in Ireland have launched Wi-Fi Calling services in rural Ireland.

ComReg also recently published the results of tests carried out on mobile and smartphone handsets. The reports surmise that providing mobile broadband coverage to people by population rather than geographically would be the more financially prudent approach. To reach 95pc of the population would cost €188m, while achieving 99.5pc of the population could cost €511m, according to Frontier Economics. To achieve 99.5pc geographic coverage with data would cost close to €1.9bn, and therefore does not sound like an attractive proposition for operators.

A ‘new-look’ taskforce promised

The report of the Taskforce indicates that in order to remain dynamic and responsive to new sectoral developments, it will be refreshed and revamped “with a wider array of stakeholders invited to participate in quarterly thematic sessions”.

The report said: “This ‘new-look’ taskforce will afford a greater range of stakeholders the opportunity to feed into the decision-making process, ensuring that telecommunications policy remains fair, proactive and future-focused.

“The energy and spirit of collaboration established over the previous two years of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce will be broadened to harness new ideas and fresh voices. In this way, the taskforce will continue to operate as a driving force in the elimination of telecommunications barriers to a fully connected Ireland.”

In terms of ducting to enable broadband delivery, Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has completed significant works along the road network, installing approximatively 1,000km of ducting nationwide, which will enable operators to deploy infrastructure to expand their networks along the route. TII said it will also now require the installation of ducting on all new road schemes, and plans are in place to geo-code all future ducts. TII said it has reduced costs associated with accessing its ducts, meaning operators will be better placed to deploy services more cost-effectively.

However, this still pales in comparison to the task at hand when you consider the original National Broadband Plan (NBP) called for fibre to traverse 100,000km of Irish roads and how Eir’s new €500m fibre-to-the-home roll-out will require roughly 50,000 km of fibre.

Granted, much of the network that Eir is deploying, as well as what has been proposed by the final bidder for the NBP, will go along poles and not necessarily all under motorways. But progress in enabling fibre to go under or along motorways – an area cited as a friction for telecoms providers – is still progress.

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