Lightning-quick 1GB broadband set to increase the pace of Irish rural life

Liam O'Brien

Siro’s plan to transform Irish broadband internet speeds has excited one industry veteran — Vodafone’s Liam O’Brien — like nothing else previously, writes Pádraig Hoare.

HE is a veteran of the telecoms industry for 25 years, but Vodafone Ireland director of external affairs Liam O’Brien says he is more excited about his work today than any time in the preceding two


It is all thanks to the revolutionary innovation that is allowing unheard of internet speeds — 1 gigabit or 1,000 megabits per second — into Irish homes that is going to make the country the “broadband capital of Europe”, with both rural and urban communities dividing the spoils equally.

Mr O’Brien is a board member of Siro, the joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB that is investing €450m into transforming Irish connectivity.

“Over the last few years, it has become apparent we are on the cusp of a digital transformation in the Irish economy, and in fact in the global economy. It is not just transforming how we live and work today, but is really opening up new ways in how we live and work. We’re incredibly well-placed to become a global leader in the digital economy, and companies like Vodafone and Siro are at the forefront of that.

“I’ve been in this industry for 25 years. Despite that long tenure, I’ve not been as excited as I have been the last few years in terms of the investment we are making, through Siro and through Vodafone, and what that enables our customers to do, both in terms of business and consumers.

“We’re building the best quality network, we’re innovating like we’ve never done before. We are connecting things and cities like we have never done before. Seeing

businesses flourishing and growing is really empowering,” Mr O’Brien said.

Vodafone Ireland has invested over €2bn in the last 10 years, employing over 1,200. Siro is a joint venture of ESB and Vodafone, which is investing €450m in building Ireland’s first 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network, connecting over 185,000 premises in over 30 towns.

Last week, Siro announced a €60m investment that will connect 75,000 premises in Cork city and county with lightning-quick broadband, and Nenagh and Roscrea soon followed.

With Skibbereen used as a guinea pig, the concept of lightning-quick broadband was rolled out to see how a town could potentially be transformed. Business leaders in the West Cork town are unanimous as to how Skibbereen has been elevated to world-class connectivity, allowing businesses to thrive where there had been barriers before with poor digital infrastructure.

What is the difference between ‘fibre broadband’ as we currently know it, and fibre-to-the-home?

Mr O’Brien said: “Historically, our connectivity has been based on a 100-year-old technology called copper. For the 20, 30, 40 years, we’ve tried to make the best of what we can do with that copper. Unfortunately, copper just isn’t fit for the future. It isn’t future-proof, it doesn’t give us the speed and the quality we need into the future, and that is where Vodafone saw an opportunity with the ESB a number of years ago to create Siro.

“Siro, in itself, is a very innovative business model. We’re one of the first companies in the world to bring fibre-optic cable along the ESB network. Every house has electricity so we can get into those houses using the same infrastructure, to bring what we call that gigabit speed to the home.

“A lot of firms on the market use the term ‘fibre broadband’ but most times that isn’t connectivity into the house — Siro actually does that. Siro actually brings the fibre-optic cable into your living room, which brings that potential for gigabit speed. Siro’s model is fundamentally different.

“Some people claim to have fibre broadband, but that in the industry is actually what we call fibre-to-the-cabinet. The speed of your connection is only as strong as your weakest link. Unfortunately, that weakest link is the old copper cable that could be there for 50 years outside your door running to the cabinet.

Lightning-quick 1GB  broadband set to increase the pace of Irish rural life

“It doesn’t matter what fibre you have back to the exchange, if there is copper back into your house, that is the speed you get and is the speed of the copper. That copper is not fit for the future. There is no copper with Siro. Siro is fibre-optic cable, it is like the power of light going through the cable to reach gigabit speed.”

It means downloading a high-definition movie in about 30 seconds, a television episode in three to five seconds, or art dealer Morgan O’Driscoll in Skibbereen uploading an entire catalogue of works in 30 seconds compared to 90 minutes previously, Mr O’Brien said.

It will not be cost prohibitive, according to Mr O’Brien, for homeowners or businesses.

“Vodafone, at the moment, is offering the 1 gigabit connection at the same price as the copper connection. The prices are very similar. If you went back 10 years ago, it would have been more prohibitive because it was delivered in a more bespoke fashion. But now, our objective is to move people onto these networks, not to put barriers in the way. We are moving customers from the old legacy technology to fibre. Cost isn’t an issue. Effectively, we are almost reversing the urban-rural divide.”

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