Carlow’s MANpower leads innovation

3 Dec 2007

Carlow’s claim to the title of Ireland’s first wireless town is three years ahead of Dublin’s plans and head and shoulders above the competition as an ideal location for business in the South East.

It began in 2005 when John Ford, then IT manager for Carlow County Council, suggested making use of the existing metropolitan area network (MAN) by creating a wireless network in the town centre which would cover the retail and business outlets as well as homes located there.

“We are hoping that once it picks up we can expand it further within the county, for example down to the Carlow Institute of Technology for the large student population both living and studying on campus,” says Mary McEvoy, economic promotion and development officer for Carlow County Council.

This MAN is a joint collaboration between Carlow County Council and e-net, the Tipperary-based company with the government contract to roll out MANs around the country.

Conal Henry, chief executive officer of e-net, agrees that the WiFi MAN is a good example of what government can do to encourage regional business development.

“When I look at Carlow I see something that is technically very elegant and can provide a wonderful service to the people there. It is a very innovative pilot and a very good way of demonstrating what is possible when entities put their heads together.”

Henry sees the project and the rollout of MANs in general as a way to cultivate economic growth by driving competition among broadband providers.

“They are the cornerstone of effective competition so they are there to facilitate the position of multiple platforms in the communications services whether that be unbundled local loops, fixed wires, mobile broadband; the list goes on.”

Ward, who was the one to bring the idea on board and join up with e-net, has won an award for Best Partnership due to the project’s success.

After the WiFi MAN infrastructure was implemented, the Carlow County Council then went with local service providers, BriskNet and Aptus, to sell the service.

McEvoy notes that the WiFi MAN is beginning to show its full potential with recent initiatives to promote its availability and use including the WiFi Gym which was installed in the town centre in association with the Revenue Online Services.

As part of South East Enterprise Week, the aim was to show citizens a combination of the Wi-Fi on offer from the local government as well as the online eGovernment services offered by the public sector.

Carlow County Council has also been in talks with Microsoft and the Department of Communications concerning plans to promote internet security awareness, especially around wireless technology.

Through collaborating with well-known technology companies, local government can turn businesses on to the benefits of connecting to a wireless MAN.

“If you just tell people that they can get broadband they don’t get very excited, but these promotions make it attractive. They can see the value in it.

“We’ve just started the process but it has been very successful already. We’ve been making contact with various companies around the country like Google, eBay and Intel and they are all interested in this and to promote their services and products which are all web-based,” says McEvoy.

McEvoy feels that this is an attractive proposition for businesses looking to relocate outside of Dublin with Carlow leading the way in new efficiencies for business.

Involved with the Spirit of Enterprise, an initiative co-funded by Enterprise Ireland, McEvoy is interested in cultivating economic development and encouraging businesses to locate throughout the south east region.

As soon as she heard about the Carlow Wi-Fi project she said she was excited to get on board immediately, as were other local government.

“The local government’s Computer Services Board came on board and they wanted to get involved because they were really excited that we had done this and said they wanted to make Carlow a pilot for the rest of the country.

“Obviously there are MANs in 27 towns around the country so they wanted to see if we were able to use a MAN for this additional purpose here and then look at doing it elsewhere.”

As one of the fastest-growing towns in Ireland and one of the six hotspots in Ireland for development according to the 2007 Lisney report, McEvoy notes that Carlow is in an ideal position to front the notion of WiFi enabled towns.

She says the Taoiseach’s office has shown considerable interest and have commissioned that Carlow should demonstrate how this could be a pilot for the rest of the country.

Henry thinks the government can learn even more from this.

“I’d like to see some element of free service so that passing trade, tourists, students, and the traveling community can use this service without having to pay for it: If it almost became an element of municipal amenity.”

“However that is very difficulty in a situation where it is not funded by somebody but I think where WiFi has really taken off is where it has been provided for free.

“People really find it very useful, not as their core broadband service but as a useful amenity for when they are shopping or whatever in a metropolitan area.”

By Marie Boran