As the provider of nationwide networking services to Ireland’s higher-education sector, as well as to Irish primary and secondary schools, HEAnet caters to one of the most demanding, most dynamic customer bases in Ireland.
With the appetite among colleges and universities growing for bandwidth-hungry services like video conferencing and voice over IP, HEAnet needs to ensure it can deliver the speeds, the quality and the quality assurance its customers expect. AirSpeed Telecom, HEAnet’s newest supplier, is using its unique technology to help HEAnet deliver on its mission in one of the most remote and rugged areas of Ireland.
It was in 2007 that HEAnet went to tender for infrastructure connectivity services in the Gaeltacht. The tender was part of a larger nationwide request for proposal (RFP) as HEAnet moved to significantly upgrade the capacity it could offer its customers, which includes all the major universities, colleges and institutes of technology.
National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), in particular, needed better connectivity for some of their sites in the region, which either had 2Mbps leased lines or, at best, ADSL connectivity at no more than 3Mbps.
The Gaeltacht portion of the tender was unique. The successful bidder would need to build out infrastructure that would equip nine remote locations with unprecedented bandwidth of up to 155Mbps. And the company would also need to be willing and able to work with Údarás na Gaeltachta, the region’s development authority, to use the new infrastructure to offer circuits to local businesses.
Údarás had agreed to co-fund set-up costs of the new infrastructure and was keen that local companies could use the region’s new bandwidth to their advantage.
After examining and evaluating the responses to the tender, HEAnet chose AirSpeed Telecom, a supplier it had never worked with before, as the winner of the contract.
"AirSpeed Telecom was the first choice because its design met our requirements. It was very economically viable and we felt the company exhibited good potential as a new HEAnet supplier," recalls Owen Byrne, project manager for HEAnet.
He says the decision has proven to be a very good one, and rollout is now complete.
- AirSpeed Telecom designed and provisioned a brand new licensed wireless network using microwave radio technology to service sites in the Gaeltacht selected by NUIG and GMIT.
- 155Mbps bandwidth now serves eight sites in Galway and one in Clare.
- The bandwidth is up to 50 times greater than the fastest speeds previously available to the sites using ADSL.
HEAnet has commended AirSpeed Telecom’s ability and willingness to liaise so successfully with a wide group of stakeholders, including contacts in NUIG, GMIT and HEAnet. AirSpeed Telecom has also linked directly with Údarás na Gaeltachta and its client companies, a number of which have agreed to purchase capacity on the new infrastructure from AirSpeed Telecom.
Mike Norris, HEAnet’s chief technology officer, particularly commends AirSpeed Telecom’s professionalism and its technical expertise.
"One thing we noted was that AirSpeed Telecom deployed all of its own staff at all levels for project management and installation," he says. "We weren’t dealing with third parties here, and that was a big advantage in this case."
Norris and his colleagues also comment that the quality of the AirSpeed Telecom network has surpassed their expectations, paying its technology probably the highest possible compliment by saying that it performs "like fibre".
"In addition to the very large gains in bandwidth that we expected over traditional DSL, a very welcome qualitative improvement has also been observed," says Byrne.
"The latency/jitter values and bit error rates measured between HEAnet’s point of presence (PoP) in NUIG and the remote Gaeltacht sites are comparable to those we’d expect via fibre over similar distances. NUIG and GMIT can be confident that this network, delivered via AirSpeed Telecom infrastructure, will support time-critical applications such as voice over IP and video-conferencing facilities."
Time will tell the true impact of this unprecedented communications infrastructure on the Gaeltacht region. But with the eight sites in Galway alone now collectively boasting aggregate bandwidth commensurate with that serving some of Ireland’s largest universities which have thousands of users, there are intriguing possibilities for cutting-edge educational applications and for the long-term viability of all kinds of local businesses, which terrestrial telecoms firms have never been able to reach with affordable, reliable services at these speeds and quality levels.
Byrne says that HEAnet is also pleased that the new infrastructure will allow it to provide connectivity into these regions for other HEAnet clients in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere across the country.
He also notes that licensed wireless has matured into a technology with a tremendous amount to offer to HEAnet and its client base.
"Prior to this, we had one or two other sites using licensed wireless, but never at the speeds AirSpeed Telecom is offering, and not in sites as geographically remote as Connemara," Byrne explains.
"We’ve since ordered additional circuits from AirSpeed Telecom in Dublin and Wicklow. It’s certainly a technology that we’re more than willing and happy to use when we see a need for it."
Liam O’Kelly, chief executive, AirSpeed Telecom, says that in terms of business and enterprise in the Gaeltacht, the connectivity is providing a welcome boost.
"With all the talk about the smart economy and where we are going to, as a thought leader that provides intellectual property that could take place anywhere in Ireland and the barrier is often connectivity.
"Wireless plays a very important role. Radio is the most effective way of delivering connectivity in the last mile and to rapidly cover an area," says Kelly.
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