Decision ‘imminent’ on connecting Cork to global US$300m fibre network

3 Nov 2011

Government and telecoms industry decision makers have just a window of months to decide if Cork city and region – home to some of the biggest tech and pharmaceutical operations in the country – is going to be connected to a US$300m transatlantic fibre network that will pass just 20km from Cork harbour.

Hibernia Atlantic is laying a 6,021km state-of-the-art fibre Hibernian Express network that will extend from Halifax to the UK, connecting finance centres in New York and London in just 59 milliseconds.

Connecting to this network will be a key deciding factor in winning future inward investment in the Cork region.

Fergus Innes, vice-president of Hibernia Atlantic, explained that while the network won’t be active until 2013, the final surveys that will decide if a branching unit will connect to Cork will be happening in the next few months.

Technology industry group it@cork in recent months expressed concern that this window would close. Cork is home to major tech industry names such as Apple, EMC, VMware, IBM and Trend Micro. The region also boasts numerous life sciences and biopharma giants including SmithKline, Eli Lilly and Pfizer, to name but a few.

The Hibernia Atlantic business is owned by US businessman Ken Peterson, who also owns broadband provider Magnet.

In 2009, the €30m ‘Project Kelvin’ fibre cable that links Ireland to 24,000km of undersea cable linking Ireland with the US, Canada and UK came ashore at Portrush, Co Antrim. The transatlantic and terrestrial cable network offers more than 70 points of presence throughout Ireland, Canada, the US, the UK and mainland Europe.

The latest Hibernia Express network which goes from Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, to the UK, will travel along Ireland’s southern coast and it will provide financial and digital-media firms with superfast bandwidth.

A recent report in The Telegraph claimed trading firms and banks in New York and London are queueing up to use it once it’s live and it is predicted they will be willing to pay about 50 times as much to link up to the new network as they would via existing transatlantic cables for a difference of just six milliseconds.

Innes explained that the key to this for finance firms is that a matter milli-, nano- or pico-seconds could spell the difference of millions of dollars in financial trading.

Connecting a spur to Cork would be invaluable to the region and would not only safeguard the future of existing multinationals and indigenous firms in the region but would usher in a slew of new investment from state-of-the-art finance and digital-media firms.

If the spur was then connected to the nation’s metropolitan area networks in key towns via backhaul, then many more regions could benefit.

Innes says it is just a matter of deciding to install a branching unit that will connect to the fibre that will run just 20km from Cork harbour.

“This infrastructure will be more valuable to a nation’s future than any airports, seaports or railway lines,” he said.

The cost of connecting to the Hibernia Express line

Business groups like it@cork, which represents more than 300 technology businesses, are well aware the cable is due to be laid, of its proximity to Cork and are anxious to see something done. They estimate the cost of connecting a spur to the Hibernia Express cable will be just €15m, small change when you consider the jobs that could be created and the money the State has spent bailing out bankers and developers.

In recent months, it@cork chairman Denis J Collins told “There’s an opportunity, for example, to connect a tier 1 line to the transatlantic network being built by Hibernia Atlantic. The investment, estimated at just €15m, would be minimal by comparison to the overall value that it would generate in investment and jobs for the region for decades to come.”

A window of just months exists to decide before the marine surveys are conducted. Let’s hope wise minds prevail and a valuable opportunity for Ireland isn’t missed.

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