Industry moves to bolster Group Broadband Scheme

28 Jun 2006

It has emerged that out of 119 Group Broadband Schemes (GBS) approved by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, a mere 30 are up and running. Out of €25m provided to support the scheme, less than €4m has actually been drawn down by community groups due to unanticipated administrative and technology pressures associated with running regional networks.

The GBS programme was to be run along the lines of the Group Water Scheme with the Government paying up to 55pc of the cost (depending on location) of bringing broadband to towns or regions with a population of less than 1,500 people.

In March last year, reported that schemes were being stymied by core problems, namely insufficient wholesale services being made available and lack of interest on the part of major telecoms firms. At the time Christian Cooke of the Group Data Scheme Society, which originally presented the idea to the Government in 2003, said: “These schemes are dependent on a wholesale affordable internet access rate being offered. The irony is that Ireland has significant backhaul infrastructure. There’s fibre running up and down the country and it needs to be made available to these group schemes.”

Another problem that has emerged for approved GBS projects is the lack of administrative and technological know-how on the ground to enable volunteers to make a community broadband network actually viable.

Yesterday E-net, the firm responsible for running a large portion of the Government’s €170m metropolitan area network (MAN) plan joined forces with Hosting 365, telecoms equipment maker Motorola and Cork-based wireless internet service provider (WISP) technology firm Azotel Outside. The companies aim to provide community schemes with a “WISP in a box” product set that would enable community schemes to get up and running and achieve a return on their investment within nine months.

Bank of Ireland has also joined the consortium, offering financing for community groups that aim to invest in the WISP product.

Encompassing transit, monitoring, support, billing, hardware, training, consultancy, marketing packs, financing and backhaul, the consortium describes the new service as a complete turnkey offering to set up a “proven” broadband business.

Under the terms of the initiative, Motorola will deploy its Canopy wireless broadband technology to groups that sign up for the WISP package.

The new Azotel product offers individual entrepreneurs — existing and potential internet service providers — a chance to become involved in broadband roll-out, explained Paul Lynch, sales director at Hosting 365. “A WISP who invests in the ‘wireless in a box’ (WIB) solution could see a return on investment and enter profitability within 9 months. Should the WISP secure grant funding, time to return on investment could be less.”

Ian Bayly, director of Motorola’s Canopy division, told that the wireless system, with access points placed on top of buildings, could yield speeds of 1MB upstream and downstream or could be easily configured to enable 2MB upstream or 2MB downstream. He added that the technology is part of Motorola’s WiMax product roadmap. Backhaul on a WiMax network, he said, can reach up to 300Mbps over a 40km distance, on a line-of-sight basis.

“Motorola’s Canopy was first deployed in Cork Ireland in 2004 and is now installed in 130 countries by 3,200 WISPs,” said Bayly. “The Canopy system is a proven wireless broadband technology and ideal for developing, enhancing and extending wireless broadband networks and services into rural and urban areas.”

He continued: “The key characteristics of the Canopy system — carrier-grade toughness, exceptional performance, security, low latency for voice over IP (VoIP), ease of use and cost effectiveness — make it the perfect fit within the Azotel offering.”

The Azotel WISP offering was developed by Cork-based WISP Amocom, which was established after receiving one of the first wireless broadband licences by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg).

John O’Hare of Azotel said that the package was a no-brainer for community schemes or entrepreneurs that want to quickly offer wireless broadband services without suffering administrative and financial headaches. He described the technology, which consists of a single black box that would reside at a wireless base station, as a “Linux solid state device”.

He explained the offering takes the risk out of WISPs establishing a new network in a town or region. “It allows broadband operators to focus on the commercial side of their business by removing the high-end IT costs and expert knowledge base required in order to build, expand, and maintain broadband networks. The WIB technology, allows the broadband operator to outsource a combination of highly technical network management functions and time consuming administrative back office functions to Azotel.”

He added that it would be up to individual WISPS using the system to commercialise their individual networks by offering “sticky applications” or value-added services such as VoIP, email and security.

By John Kennedy