For several years, we have been hearing about how vital broadband internet access is for the development of small businesses in Ireland. For almost as long, we are left wondering as to whether it will ever arrive. One of the most eagerly awaited broadband solutions is ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line).
It is essentially an upgrade of existing copper telephone lines that has the potential to offer data speeds of between 512Kbps and 1Mbps, an improvement on the 56Kbps offered by dial-up access. There are variations of it, the most common of which is ADSL. It is called asymmetric because of the difference between data speeds of information sent to a PC and from a PC, and the average computer user generally receives far more information than he or she sends. Thus, better use of bandwidth is achieved if downstream data speeds are faster than upstream speeds.
Eircom was the first to announce ADSL availability in September of last year. The service was branded i-Stream. However, a dispute with the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation (ODTR) over wholesale access charges to other operators delayed its launch until April of this year. Esat BT also began to roll out ADSL on its network earlier this year.
One company that has availed of Eircom’s i-Stream package is Strata3, an internet services agency based in Dublin. The company specialises in bespoke systems development, web design, database and software development. It employs 15 people.
According to director Morgan Lynch, Strata3 was previously operating with two dial-up lines and two ISDN lines. However, more bandwidth was needed because of the company’s expanding operations. “A lot of our work involves collaboration with clients, which means a lot of data traffic,” said Lynch. “We also have an extranet system that allows clients to review and sign off on work, which takes up some bandwidth.
However, our most important reason for upgrading was our new product, Strata3 Core. This includes a system called Entwine, which can be used to manage marketing campaigns for clients. As part of this, we can issue email newsletters and it is possible to send out 100,000 emails at a time. In addition, we now have the capability to create promotional micro-sites for clients. All of this is bandwidth dependent,” he said.
Before opting for ADSL, the company did examine other options. “We looked at leased lines, but found them to be prohibitively expensive. The other option open to us was wireless broadband. However, we felt that it was somewhat unproven,” added Lynch.
One of the chief reasons Strata3 opted for ADSL was cost. It chose Eircom’s top package, i-Stream Enhanced, for a fee of €169 a month (excluding Vat). It offers data speeds of up to 1Mbps downstream and 256Kbps upstream to a multi-user, multi-PC networked environment. Lynch estimates that Strata3 is now on track to save €7,000 per annum with the new package, in addition to the better quality of service provided.
According to Lynch, the installation process was relatively painless. After the initial contact, Eircom came back to them a couple of days later. Two weeks later an engineer arrived to install the service. Installation took only one hour, which included the addition of a firewall. Although the company had made contingency plans, no outage was involved and the changeover was seamless.
Strata3 has been using ADSL for over three months now. Lynch said it makes a “dramatic difference” to the company’s operations. When asked for his opinion on technical support, he said that he hasn’t had to make a call yet.
Strata3’s experience has been positive and it appears that the technology is emerging as a viable solution for small businesses. However, there is one main drawback — not everyone can avail of the service.
At present, both Eircom and Esat BT only offer ADSL on certain exchanges. While the number of exchanges is likely to expand over time, it is possible that not every exchange will be upgraded since the telecoms operators may only decide to upgrade exchanges on which they are likely to see a return on investment. Another issue is that the effectiveness of ADSL decreases over distance. Once it exceeds a couple of kilometres, the telecoms companies will not install ADSL because the quality of service will be too poor. This issue is likely to affect rural users more than urban users.