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Rural Ireland has long been disadvantaged by the lack of broadband. The roll out of broadband has generally been driven by economic criteria such as population density, meaning outside large towns the normal experience of users has been of minimum coverage capable of handling email, slow online browsing and not much else.
The common ribbon and once off housing developments in rural Ireland, long spread out lines of houses on secondary roads, does not help as they are so thinly dispersed they are considered commercially unfeasible. Many small towns also have low population numbers with high transient tourist numbers so demographic criteria means they’re unattractive for commercial communications businesses.
In contrast to this many people wish to live the dream of living in countryside locations as home workers, which is technically feasible through the many cloud based tools from Dropbox, Skype, the many collaboration tools and the proliferation of devices. Home entertainment is also extremely limited with common online services such as Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Social Networking sites and gaming remaining pretty much a dream or a dismal experience outside of those who can afford expensive satellite broadband or lucky enough to have good mobile signals.
While initiatives such as the mobile based National Broadband Scheme have made a difference, low access speeds and frequent dropping due to contention rates have negated the productivity promise of online collaboration tools for home-workers. While urban centres and large towns enjoy ever increasing megabyte speeds rural home workers have struggled with sub 100kilobytes per second access.
The launch today of eircom’s ‘Fibre To The Home’ broadband trial solution in the small village of Belcarra in County Mayo potentially marks a new era with broadband speeds of up to 1000Mb/s, essentially opening up the level playing pitch promise of broadband.
At the event in Belcarra Eircom showcased the technology in three different locations with live feeds to a local mart, a primary school and rural entrepreneurs who are running online businesses.
Farmers at the mart several miles away in Balla Livestock Mart competed with attendees at the launch event, using a live feed and a mobile app to bid for cattle. The mart auctioneer integrated the personal bids with the online ones in his rhythmic auction chant. The Taoiseach also hosted a charity auction for Pieta House selling a 480 kilo Charolais Heifer for €1,400.
Through a live feed to Manulla National School, students spoke about how they use tablets for school projects and research, replacing a limited collection of books with instant and almost unlimited online resources. Their teacher said students were more enthusiastic about using online means rather than traditional book based approaches.
Enda Kenny TD also put the high speed broadband connection to the test in the school when he Skyped Mayo football star Donal Vaughan to ask him about the upcoming All Ireland Football Championship.
Conor Heaney, a local famer said he could potentially double his herd number by using a recently installed camera network on his farm that he accesses on his mobile phone and television. The technology allows him to move the camera and zoom in on particular animals in high definition quality. Outside of the economic impact the technology also means that during calving season he has replaced the middle of the night trips to check on cattle with a quick glance at this phone. This allows farmers to hold down full time jobs and still maintain a farm part time.
Mabtech a local online website business run by Brian Smith sells medical devices products worldwide from his base in Manulla through six different websites. Smith highlighted how he can update his site with over 3,600 images in seconds, replacing a time consuming individual image uploading process. He also spoke about how his entertainment viewing habits had changed with Netflix and now he can download a movie faster than it took him to take a disc out of its box and put it in the DVD player.
Mayo gamer Brian Devaney spoke about the advantage he has over other gamers online with the improved response times and image quality that he can now get over the fibre network.
The launch in Belcarra is effectively eircom’s proposed solution to the upcoming National Broadband Plan under the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources with the tender expected to be issued in late 2015. This will see the first homes connected in 2016, and the final homes expected to be connected by 2020. This initiative will utilise government funding to ensure that every home and business in the state can access high speed broadband of at least 30 megabits per second (30Mb/s).
According to Eircom, its will use more than 90,000km of fibre optic cable, utilising Fibre to the Home (FTTH) technology all the way to individual homes. This is significant as it overcomes the issue of poor copper quality limiting the final connection to individual households.
During the speeches An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. and Minister for Communications Alex White TD said the National Broadband is a competitive process and acknowledged state investment was needed to ensure that non-economically viable areas were not disadvantaged because of geographic location.
Eircom CEO Richard Moat said the programme had the potential to revolutionise many aspects of rural life and re-invigorate rural communities. According to Eircom sixty six communities around Ireland will see similar deployments.