Lighting up Mayo with satellite broadband

9 May 2003

The topic of broadband has possibly generated more debate in Ireland than almost anywhere else. Ever since the prospect of high-speed, always-on internet connections was dangled in front of consumers and small to medium-sized enterprises, the reality has often proven to be less than satisfactory.

For a start, Ireland was very late in getting off the ground in terms of broadband. Once it did arrive, the issue arose as to who could avail of it. While major urban centres are now approaching the stage when some users now have a choice between services, with rural areas it’s a different story.

However, when we speak of broadband, many people tend to think of ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line), the upgrade to traditional copper telephone lines currently offered by Eircom and Esat BT. While perfect for urban areas, problems arise in other parts of the country. For a start, the service only works well within a certain distance of the local telephone exchange, which means that for users too far away, it isn’t practical to install. Also, the number of exchanges that have been ADSL-enabled is limited and some exchanges may never be upgraded if it isn’t deemed economically viable.

It’s here that alternative services come in. Wireless and satellite services have been around for some time now and have been quietly chipping away at the market while the ADSL debate continues. The beauty of services such as these is that they aren’t as tied to population centres as their wired equivalents and can be deployed in more remote areas.

One company that has seen the benefit of a satellite connection is Superior Electronic Lighting Controllers (SELC) Ireland. Based in Belmullet, Co Mayo, the company specialises in public, amenity and security lighting.

After two years of research and development, the company went into production in 1982 and now employs 72 people. Over 95pc of its sales are for export, with clients in the UK, the Middle East, Australia and the Caribbean. Aside from its manufacturing facility in Belmullet, the company also operates a lab in Galway and a sales office in Chester, in the UK. SELC Ireland is widely regarded as a local success story and company founder and managing director, Sean Noone (pictured), was voted Mayo Person of the Year earlier this year.

With three different locations and a large number of overseas clients, SELC is a heavy user of the internet and was, therefore, very interesting in acquiring broadband. Prior to upgrading, the company was relying on ISDN to get online. Noone characterises it as “slow, expensive and sometimes inaccessible in the West”.

However, because of its location, the company found its options somewhat limited. “We approached all of the major operators and found that none had any immediate plans to bring broadband to Belmullet,” says Noone. SELC found its solution in Dundalk-based satellite operator Digiweb.

Digiweb’s service offers everything you would hope from a broadband operator, such as an always-on connection, a flat fee and fast download speeds of up to 512Kbps (kilobits per second). The service is available for single and multi-user environments. The system consists of a satellite dish mounted on or near to the building. Two standard coaxial cables connect the satellite dish antenna to the satellite modem, which is connected to a PC through an Ethernet port or universal serial bus port.

Digiweb’s pricing starts at €99 per month and goes up to €159 per month for its highest performing service. An installation fee of €349 applies to all standard installations.

According to Noone, installation of the service went very smoothly and only took a couple of hours over the course of two days. SELC has now been using the service for just over a month and Noone professes to being ‘extremely satisfied’. Cost savings are one particular benefit and he estimates that the company is saving in the region of €1,600 and €2k per month. In addition to this, he reckons he may be saving on travel expenses since it’s now practical to transmit information such as photographs to clients, which may have necessitated personal visits in the past. The next step, Noone hopes, is connecting the company’s teleconferencing facility to the satellite service.

Thanks to satellite, SELC hasn’t been left behind in the broadband era. A keen advocate of western development, Noone felt that the Government should be doing more to bring broadband to rural areas. Perhaps with further support from the State, the West may see more success stories such as SELC.

By Dick O’Brien

Pictured: Sean Noone, managing director of SELC Ireland, estimates that the company is saving over €2k per month by using Digiweb’s satellite broadband service