From dark fibre to subsea cables: The tech behind Ireland’s connectivity

21 Feb 2022

Sean O’Donnell, Aurora Telecom. Image: Luke Maxwell/SiliconRepublic.com

Aurora Telecom’s Sean O’Donnell discusses how the telecoms industry has changed during Covid-19 and what’s necessary for the future of network connectivity.

At the beginning of the pandemic, network connectivity was immediately put in the spotlight. As the much of the working world was sent home all of a sudden and a lot of education went online, there was increased pressure on the telecoms industry.

As the dust settled, a bigger conversation about regional hubs, permanent remote working and investment in nationwide connectivity came to the fore.

Future Human

“In Ireland, there’s a huge demand on digital connectivity, in particular for video conferencing,” said Sean O’Donnell, general manager at Aurora Telecom. He added that the robustness of networks and utilities across Ireland “shone through” during the pandemic.

Aurora Telecom, which is part of Gas Networks Ireland, was established 20 years ago. Over the last number of years, the company made a multimillion-euro investment rolling out backhaul infrastructure across the country in order to connect cities and major urban centres with high-capacity dark-fibre infrastructure.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, O’Donnell explained that dark fibre is essentially a fibre-optic infrastructure on a linear basis.

“In Dublin, that might be from a premises to a premises, or a data centre to a data centre, or a premises to a data centre, and regionally it might be from a city to a city,” he said.

“We will provide the fibre-optic infrastructure in their comms room in one building and into the other comms room in the other building and it’s up to our customers then to put the equipment onto it and then they light the fibre by sending pulses of light down that dark fibre.

“As a carrier’s carrier, other communications providers and other large corporates can just use our network because we’re open access. So, what that means is anybody who’s looking for fibre-optic infrastructure [doesn’t] need to build it themselves, they can just lease it from us or license it from us and we provide the service then in terms of maintenance across it.”

While O’Donnell said dark fibre is an important part of future-proofing Ireland’s network infrastructure, it’s not the only area that needs attention.

Subsea cables have become a vital network for data travelling around the globe. These long cables lie on the ocean floor and send data as pulses of light inside thin strands of wires, or optical fibres, within the cable.

From an Irish perspective, there are currently four subsea cables connecting the island of Ireland to the US and eight linking the island to Britain.

O’Donnell said these cable systems are critical for Ireland. “We’re quite lucky that in the last number of years, we have had transatlantic and European fibre-optic systems that are coming in and they’re crucial for Ireland,” he said.

“These submarine cable systems are highly advanced and when they land onto the shores of Ireland, they need to interconnect into a terrestrial network that matches that.”

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Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com