ComReg today publishes a paper on the best way to rollout next-generation broadband, which will be central to revitalising the Irish economy. Alex Chisholm is a commissioner at ComReg
WOULD you agree Ireland is at a critical juncture and needs to deploy future broadband networks if it is going to see an economic regeneration?
Definitely. First of all you are seeing a huge increase in demand for bandwidth driven by the consumer and business markets, with growing use of YouTube and voice over internet protocol [VoIP].
All the different networks we have in the country – from DSL to cable and mobile – are facing huge increases in demand and we need more capacity in order to keep up. To compete and stay relevant, we need to invest in next-generation platforms.
What would you say the size of the prize would be if the country knuckled down and built its future networks?
First of all, I believe the telecoms industry has a massive role to play in the return to growth and competitiveness of this country. It employs 15,000 people and generates €5bn in revenues directly.
But it is a crucial platform for other industries – digital media, pharmaceuticals, R&D, electronic engineering – there is hardly a business in the 21st century that won’t depend on a good telecoms network.
Just look at the ICT industries in Ireland over the past five years. They have grown at a rate of 6.2pc – that’s twice the rate of the economy as a whole. Compared with other areas that aren’t growing so fast – finance and construction – the importance of the ICT industry is critical.
In New Zealand, a major investment in next-generation networks (NGN) improved gross national product (GNP) by 1.3pc. In an Irish context, an investment in NGN broadband would add €2.4bn to our economic output every year.
Is there a danger that deployment of NGN broadband in Ireland could go in the same direction of DSL, a slow and torturous journey?
There was an inadequate commitment to full and fair competition by the incumbent in Ireland. But that was the pattern right across Europe.
If an NGN is to succeed in Ireland, the operators of that network should be committed to getting as much throughput as possible and that means a broad-minded approach to wholesale access. Utilisation in terms of homes and businesses will be vital.
The current financial situation has opened people’s eyes. There is going to be a lot more interest from all sectors of the telecoms industry in terms of finding an efficient and equitable solution.
The telecoms industry in Ireland is unified in its belief in co-investment and open access to using the NGN infrastructure. This means breaking with some of the not-so-good patterns of the past. It should be welcomed.
So you believe cross-platform competition could thrive in Ireland?
Cross-platform competition is already here in many respects. In the early days of broadband, it was solely centred on DSL. But today you have the coming of age of mobile and fixed wireless broadband, as well as mobile broadband.
This places increased pressure on DSL players to increase coverage and digitise exchanges. It is competition that fuels the rollout of infrastructure.
Ireland today has nearly 1.3 million broadband subscribers. Of that, 36pc get their broadband via wireless and a further 9pc from cable. So, effectively, 45pc of the Irish broadband market today is non-DSL.