Can data networks support a nation of remote workers?

20 Sep 2019

Eóin MacManus, Three Ireland. Image: Connor McKenna/

With a remote working revolution on the rise, we asked Eóin MacManus of Three Ireland if the country is truly equipped for people to work from anywhere.

Future of Work Week

This summer, Three commissioned a report from Amárach Research into how Irish people felt about remote working.

Future Human

The survey found that, currently, the majority (58%) of employees are not permitted to work from home. Among those survey participants who availed of remote working, 61pc said they use mobile data to work remotely either occasionally or almost all the time.

For those who don’t have the option to work from home, almost two-thirds (64pc) felt that having this opportunity would improve their work-life balance, and more than half (59pc) believed they could be more productive.

“When [people] work from home they feel that they can get more done,” said Eóin MacManus, chief business officer at Three Ireland.

“Remote working is something that there’s a genuine interest in, a genuine demand for, and something that people see will be increasing in the future.”

In fact, 53pc of those surveyed were certain that remote working will become more popular in future, while only 7pc were certain it won’t.

Although taken from a small sample size, this study and others like it show the growing appetite for flexible working among the Irish workforce. However, most people (55pc) did not expect that they can realistically work from just anywhere.

There could be many reasons for this uncertainty, but being able to reliably connect to the digital workplace would certainly be core to enabling a country of remote workers. And while chunks of the country still await broadband, data networks are often the only available option.

‘People legitimately can work 5km off the coast of Ireland and get the same kind of speeds as if they were living and working in Dublin city centre or in London’

When asked if the current networks could support a nationwide remote workforce, MacManus was confident. “A network is built to satisfy the capacity or the demands of what is called ‘the busy hour’, which is the busiest time of a network in any particular day. And when it comes to data, that time is between about eight to nine o’clock in the evening time,” he explained.

“During the daytime, most suburban areas where people live are not actually at anywhere near capacity. So it wouldn’t put a significant demand on the existing networks at all.”

MacManus’s confidence in the network likely comes from a knowledgeable place. According to him, Three’s network is responsible for about 60pc of the all the data communicated across the country and it has reached 98pc 4G coverage. And, with its recent Arranmore project, Three has shown that remote working can really be remote.

“We had a mast on the coast and we beamed a signal over to [Arranmore] island using a technology called a wireless leased line, and that was then received by a mast at the digital hub, the sort of quasi-office that was set up on the island itself for remote working,” said MacManus.

“So at that island now they can get up to 100Mbps speed, uncontended … So people legitimately can work 5km off the coast of Ireland and get the same kind of speeds as if they were living and working in Dublin city centre or in London.”

Three’s survey also asked workers if they would move elsewhere if they could keep their current job by continuing to work remotely. More than half (61pc) of those who currently don’t benefit from flexible work said they either ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ would.

“I see that the future is very bright in relation to using mobile technology and remote working, for sure,” said MacManus.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic