It might come as some surprise to learn that at 13.9 Mbps, Ireland has catapulted itself to seventh fastest in the world for average broadband speeds.
According to Akamai’s ‘State of the Internet’ report for Q3 2014, this represents a 10 per cent increase quarter on quarter and a staggering 47 per cent increase year on year.
Following acres of newsprint and hours of airtime, ongoing agitation for broadband network investment is paying dividends, on the surface at least.
Network investment from all the major operators continues apace and with the National Broadband Plan (NBP) due to go to tender later this year, broadband speeds can only go one way – up.
It’s no longer a question of if but when urban and rural organisations can enjoy equal opportunity in extracting real business value from their internet connectivity.
Cable and fibre provider, UPC has already invested over €500 million into its network and with its platform upgrade ratified by industry and available mid-year, the operator could in theory, deliver speeds of up to 10 Gbps.
“We’ve noticed that as speeds increase, the rate of download increases in line with them and organisations are using their broadband more,” said Gavan Smyth, VP of business services with UPC.
“Small businesses are using the cloud in a number of ways, by paying a monthly subscription for a service which reduces capital expenditure. But they’re also using free services such as Google Docs and Dropbox to better manage files,” he said.
“We also have a number of medium-sized businesses, for example, that take our fibre product directly into the building and use our cable product for backup and redundancy. If their infrastructure is in a data centre and they have nothing on site, they have diversity across two separate networks,” he said.
Among larger enterprises, Smyth sees a greater willingness to move applications into the cloud with a lot of demand for connections from the office to the data centre as opposed to office-to-office.
With large swathes of the country struggling to secure an acceptable level of broadband connectivity, operators such as Vodafone are using clever solutions to address the deficit according to Barry Tierney, head of enterprise marketing.
“Vodafone has a ‘Data Wherever There’s Voice’ program so wherever we have voice we are rolling out 3G services over 900 spectrum. That allows us to get much broader coverage,” he said.
As well as switching on 4G and 4G-plus with speeds up to 150 Mbps, the company will continue with 3G rollout over the next 18 months.
Tierney believes that the service will offer home-based or small businesses in broadband blackspots an alternative to fixed broadband. His local acupuncturist in Wicklow, who previously found it difficult to get even a basic level of broadband coverage, now enjoys speeds of 6 Mbps with the new service.
“It’s a good fixed line substitute but it’s also great for mobile businesses in logistics, for example. Staff using a sign and deliver system will now have a data connection virtually everywhere in Ireland and it makes these initiatives much more practical,” he said.
Eircom is two-thirds of the way through its €1.5 billion investment plan.
“When it comes to those places that are just not economic to reach, there is the NBP,” said David Walsh, director of commercial and SME with eircom.
“It’s about everyone getting behind that – companies like eircom and customers agitating for an adequate and acceptable level of broadband in the country. There are also 66 towns that have been identified for rollout of up to 1 Gbps in a new investment program that’s to start shortly,” he said.
Walsh believes the rollout of 4G improves the overall broadband customer experience with 65,000 customers currently on the network and 80 per cent of eircom’s mobile base capable of accessing the service.
“4G is certainly helping customers who have a greater dependence on mobility. They can be out and about and still access applications back in the office that they need to run their business. 4G is making that a much better experience and for customers who may be struggling to get the fixed line broadband they want, 4G is an alternative in terms of giving greater access to speeds and allowing them to compete on a level playing field,” he said.
Airspeed takes a different approach, using a combination of fibre and licensed microwave technology to deliver symmetrical (same upload as download) broadband speeds. Peter Hendrick, technical director sees the use of cloud-based technologies scale from large enterprise right down to the SME sector.
“We would deliver services to high end enterprises where they are connecting data centres, offices in other locations or applications such as CRM. Now a lot of those applications are cloud-based. SAP and Salesforce that would have been typically available only for large enterprises are now being used and deployed by SMEs. Those customers are demanding more bandwidth these days regardless of where they are,” he said.