Driving the wireless revolution

17 Jan 2010

Solid engineering principles are making the difference in bringing 21st-century broadband to organisations in a diverse range of locations, AirSpeed Telecom’s CEO Liam O’Kelly says.

It was O’Kelly and his colleagues’ vast experience in enabling broadcasters like RTÉ to send critical news and sports reportage over vast geographic distances that made them realise a revolution was coming.

Thanks to AirSpeed, that revolution – the internet and high-speed connectivity which are the life blood of functioning businesses today – is enabling a wide cross section of society, from school students and academics to medical experts and digital media entrepreneurs, to operate at peak efficiency.

According to O’Kelly, the origins of AirSpeed go back to 2003, when he and a number of colleagues were building television facilities around the world. “We had an opportunity to look at emerging wireless technologies and I suppose at that time the technologies were just about becoming mature.

“This coincided with availability of licensed spectrum in Ireland and we took the opportunity to enter the market for business broadband using radio technology as the medium. That was the beginning for us.

Key to AirSpeed’s offering

O’Kelly said the key aspect of AirSpeed’s offering is using the wireless medium – with fibre backhaul – to deliver high availability services to organisations.

“It’s about the application of technology. There are lots of examples at home and abroad of people using wireless technology but they don’t necessarily apply the same principles of engineering design.

Much has been said and written about Ireland’s regional broadband issues but as far as O’Kelly is concerned, the future of broadband will be a mixture of different delivery platforms, from DSL to cable and fibre. Wireless, he said, has a fundamental role to play in delivery.

“I don’t think there will be a ubiquitous service model that applies to the delivery of broadband. It’s really more about how do I deliver the broadband that meets the applications on a national scale. In order to do that, look at all the tools that are available to you and use those tools to deliver the service in the bandwidth that people require.

“Wireless has a specific advantage over other technologies. If we look at the topography of the country, it is not reasonable to suggest we’re going to deliver fibre type connectivity to every business community or home, but if you look at radio-based technologies they are perfectly suited and tailored to those types of services.

“In the Irish context, when you look at the incentives that government and others have offered to locate business in remote locations, radio technology plays a very important part in servicing these remote communities. AirSpeed has played its part in terms of the development of broadband nationally, particularly when serving remote communities,” O’Kelly explains.

He illustrated this by pointing out how AirSpeed won a contract to provide 31 schools, including many in remote locations, such as Tory Island, with 100Mbps broadband, as well as organisations like Udaras na Gaeltachta along Ireland’s west coast.

AirSpeed across Ireland

AirSpeed serves numerous key organisations such as Dairygold, for example, with connectivity in regional locations. Last year, AirSpeed Telecom was awarded a contract to link up Údarás na Gaeltachta’s regional offices in Kerry, Galway and Donegal with 10Mbps broadband.

Under the terms of the new contract, AirSpeed Telecom provided Údarás na Gaeltachta with reliable and high-capacity interconnections between the state agency’s regional offices in An Daingean, Co Kerry, and An Bun Beag, Co Donegal, as well as connecting the Údarás na Gaeltachta headquarters at Na Forbacha, Co Galway, to the Government network.

“This increased capacity network now available to our head office and regional offices will assist us in achieving efficiencies, as it enables our IT systems to operate more effectively,” said Seán Ó Ráighne, IT manager, Údarás na Gaeltachta.

AirSpeed Telecom provided a bandwidth capacity of 10Mbps to each of the regional sites in Co Kerry and Co Donegal. Until now, these sites had been operating at just 2Mbps of bandwidth. In addition, Údarás na Gaeltachta headquarters will operate at a new, improved bandwidth capacity of 100Mbps and connection to the Government network at 50Mbps. The contract with Údarás na Gaeltachta will require the addition of a new high site at RTÉ Maghera in north Clare, which will give the AirSpeed Telecom network access to Ennis, Co Clare, and parts of Co Galway. It will also extend AirSpeed Telecom’s reach into Co Donegal, which is new territory for the company.

Radio-based technologies

O’Kelly said that it is possible to get fibre-like speeds on radio-based technologies. “Today, we are dealing with speeds of 800Mbps and on some of newer technologies, we can deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps for a single customer. Important to say that fibre plays its role for that, too. We use radio to deliver last mile or even the last 30 miles and then connect to a fibre connection that brings data back to the core of the network.

It’s not just remote regions that need radio connections. In North County Dublin, for example, AirSpeed is delivering that much-needed last mile solving a bandwidth deficit for many companies. For example, ACE Express Group, a freight forwarding company, has reduced operating costs by 40pc through the addition of reliable high bandwidth from AirSpeed. Previously unable to get more than a DSL connection, the company has been able to introduce new ways of doing business as a result of the new high bandwidth service.  Introduction of mobile devices to update stock at point of delivery, online payment capability and digital camera feeds to monitor warehouse activity backed up with service guarantees appropriate for a business service has resulted not only in savings in costs but also an ability to plan for the future without location or lack of fibre being a limiting factor.

Connectivity’s role in smart economy

O’Kelly believes that along with education and innovation, connectivity is pivotal to the creation of Ireland’s smart economy.

“As a country, we are moving from being viewed internationally as a source of low-cost but educated labour to now being a thought leader who can provide intellectual property.

“I agree that could take place anywhere in Ireland and the barrier really is connectivity to make us part of what they call the information superhighway instead of the information back lane. In order to develop that, wireless plays a very important part in that.

“When we see these exponential bandwidth people are talking about today, we have customers who were using 500k in 2003 and today are using 45Mbps of bandwidth and we can only but expect that will continue to grow in the years to come.

“In terms of delivering that, radio is the most efficient and flexible way to deliver that to the last mile. We talk about a remote or city central location, the cost of monetary terms of digging that road alongside the environmental impact is extremely high.

“You can install radio within a day and deliver 800Gbps speed to that location. That provides the flexibility to rapidly deliver and cover an area,” O’Kelly concluded.

Looking to the future of the 35-strong company, O’Kelly said the key differentiator it has found in the marketplace is the ability to deliver rock solid SLAs (service level agreements).

He said the plan going forward is to study international opportunities and use what was learned here in Ireland to bridge digital divides elsewhere in the world and ultimately excel in the future wireless technologies that will transform the digital economy for years to come.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years