Government unveils major €435m broadband plan

3 Jul 2008

The Government has unveiled a next-generation network (NGN) plan that will see €435m pumped into a nationwide fibre-optic network, with state-owned fibre technology being utilised and broadband made universal by 2010.

The plan, unveiled today by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD (pictured), will make use of significant dark fibre networks belonging to Bord Gáis, ESB and CIÉ around the country to develop a nationwide backhaul network available to telecom operators on an open access basis.

As Mark Kellett of Magnet Networks pointed out at the Real Broadband Alternatives Conference in Dublin yesterday, CIÉ’s nationwide fibre network alone would link up 80pc of urban centres across Ireland.

The far-reaching plan promises to make universal broadband available in Ireland by late 2009, early 2010.

Under the plan, some 100Mbps of local area networking technology will be deployed to Irish secondary schools on a phased basis.

It will be mandatory for all public sector infrastructure projects to install ducting at the construction phase.

The Government will establish a one-stop shop to provide service providers with open access to existing and future ducting infrastructure.

Included in the plan is a provision whereby all new housing developments will have to include fibre-optic cabling.

The plan also includes a specific R&D aspect whereby a specialised research programme will be established to monitor developments and spectrum will be allocated to encourage trialling and development of flexible new mobile technologies.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people availing of broadband in this country,” Minister Ryan explained. “We now have over one million broadband subscribers in Ireland. We have been catching up but we cannot stand still.

“Technology is advancing rapidly and will enable far greater convergence between traditional forms of mobile and fixed communications at higher speeds. The purpose of this paper is to place Ireland in pole position to avail of the opportunities of the new internet economy.”

Minister Ryan also promised to make use of the Government’s purchasing power to stimulate demand, create economies of scale and better public services.

A spokesperson for the Minister said a forum will take place in September involving the telecoms industry, public sector, technology companies and media to discuss the rollout of the plan.

The announcement of the consultation document has been welcomed by telecoms operators.

Liam O’Halloran of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators (ALTO) told “ We welcome the fact the Department has done a lot of work and distilled this into 10 items that serve as a framework to follow.

“We welcome the idea of a one-stop shop to integrate state-owned assets to provide support for broadband infrastructure. We especially welcome the idea of adjusting building regulations to ensure fibre access to new developments.

“Where the Minister says we have infrastructure that will be made available on an open-access basis, we interpret this as expecting industry to invest to provide the services and public policy area to target infrastructure. It’s a particularly positive development in terms of schools and also the development of the nation’s intellectual infrastructure,” O’Halloran said.

Broadband provider Perlico said the move could see connection speeds in Ireland equal most other developed regions by 2012.

“While Ireland has witnessed very significant growth in broadband penetration over the last 12 months, our industry has a responsibility to help bridge the digital divide while also increasing the quality and speed of broadband for existing customers,” explained Paul Woods, commercial director of Perlico.

“The Government’s next-generation broadband strategy coupled with ComReg’s work in this area is encouraging,” Woods explained.

Business organisation Chambers Ireland said the move will open up the digital marketplace to even more businesses across Ireland and enable the development of sustainable local economies.

“We note also that during this time of changing economic circumstances, the Government has committed to delivering this plan on time and on budget,” said Claire Cunningham, chair of Chambers Ireland’s digital policy group.

“It is essential Ireland has a world-class broadband infrastructure in order to continue to attract foreign investment and support the development of internationally focused and trading Irish companies,” Cunningham added.

The director of the IBEC-based Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF), Tommy McCabe, said continuous dialogue between operators and the State is essential for ubiquitous broadband to be realised in Ireland.

“Telecom operators are currently investing in the order of €700m per annum across all platforms, including fixed, mobile, fixed wireless and cable.

“It is essential the Government, in consultation with industry, ensures that an appropriate policy framework and regulatory environment is in place to stimulate further investment in next-generation broadband and to encourage competition,” said McCabe.

Commenting on the news, John Quinn, regulatory and development director at Smart Telecom, said: “Today’s announcement by Minister Ryan has in the first instance to be applauded. The Government has now outlined a clear set of goals and investment for the development of the broadband infrastructure in Ireland.

“These goals and commitments tie in with Smart Telecom’s own core beliefs and aspirations for next-generation services in Ireland. Earlier this week, Smart concluded a multimillion euro deal with ESB Telecoms (ESBT) enabling us provide high-capacity, next-generation broadband services throughout Ireland,” Quinn said.


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