Ireland is set to surpass European neighbours in providing gigabit fibre-to-the-home. Marking World Telecommunication And Information Society Day, the Minister of State with responsibility for Communications at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Ossian Smyth, said, “as we move towards a sustainable and digitally connected economy, we are rolling out a world-class communications network across the country – enabling households, communities and businesses to embrace digital opportunities.”
“Our target is to complete the delivery of digital connectivity to all Connected Hubs and all schools by 2023; for all Irish households and businesses to be covered by a Gigabit network no later than 2028; and for all populated areas to be covered by 5G by no later than 2030.”
The availability of high-speed, reliable digital connectivity will support the delivery of Ireland’s economic and social ambitions in the digital era and will help realise the State’s ambition to be at the forefront of European and global digital developments.
This digital connectivity will support more balanced regional development and growth, as well as supporting the green transition. A digitally connected Ireland will enable remote working, and facilitate greater access to regional talent and skills.
It will contribute to the reinvigoration of towns and villages and help to address the digital divide for rural areas, including the delivery of connectivity to even the most remote rural locations, facilitating the joining up of national networks, for example libraries, to Broadband Connection Points and Connected Hubs, and supporting the development of networks of regional innovation hubs.
Gigabit-Capable Coverage in Ireland
Despite having a lower density population, data from the European Commission shows that Ireland is already a strong performer across all EU Member States when it comes to Gigabit-capable broadband. According to the data, in June 2020 58% of Irish households could access a broadband speed of 1 Gigabit or more, seven percentage points ahead of the EU 27 average of 51%. Gigabit-capable refers to a network that can deliver at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) or 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps) to businesses and householders.
Further underpinning this strong performance is the fact that Ireland has the most rural population among all EU Member States. 39% of Irish households are classed as rural, compared to an EU average of just 16%. A lower population density increases the cost of network rollout, as it increases the level of civil/engineering works required.
The European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2021 found that Ireland already ranks seventh among EU Members States for integration of digital technologies by businesses; in fact, we outperform the EU average on a number of metrics – in areas like e-commerce, social media, cloud computing and cross-border business – all of which enable businesses in Ireland to reach a wider market at home and abroad, while reducing costs and improving productivity.
Driving Broadband Access Across Ireland
Government policy is successfully driving the rollout of high-speed broadband across the country. Ireland’s National Broadband Plan is one of the most ambitious in the world, ensuring that high-speed broadband will be available to 100% of premises, including our islands, regardless of how remote or rural. Since its launch in 2012, the National Broadband Plan has supported investment and delivery of enhanced services by commercial operators in our cities and in many of our towns and surrounding areas. In more rural locations, or where a suitable service is not offered by commercial operators, reliable and future-proofed high-speed broadband is being rolled out to a further half a million homes and businesses under the State-led intervention project.
Importance of High-Speed Broadband
A report by EY, produced for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, investigated the potential benefits of the National Broadband Plan for the Irish economy.
The report found that broadband is increasingly essential to our daily lives and that it is a vital part of economic and social development. The State-led intervention is crucial to ensure that all of Ireland can equally benefit. A failure to make this investment would result in a growing digital divide, with negative economic and social impacts.
This work shows that the National Broadband Plan is unlocking significant environmental benefits, particularly with the increased prevalence of remote working. The report also highlights how high-speed digital infrastructure contributes to supporting economic prosperity and resilience, and social inclusion across the entire country meaning that people in rural areas must, and will, have the same opportunities and services as those in bigger cities.
Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland
The department recently hosted a public consultation on the draft Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland. The purpose of the Digital Connectivity Strategy is to set out the key targets to be achieved by the telecommunications sector and to identify the key enablers needed to meet these targets. That consultation closed on 8 April, and the final Connectivity Strategy is due for publication in the coming weeks.
The strategy directly supports the government’s recently-launched National Digital Strategy ‘Harnessing Digital – Digital Ireland Framework’, particularly Dimension 2: Digital Infrastructure. The Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland addresses the digital infrastructure pillar of Europe’s Digital Decade – the EU’s vision for digital transformation by 2030.