Ireland faces huge broadband challenges

IRELAND still faces an uphill challenge if it is to achieve a quality nationwide broadband internet network in the short-to-medium term, an industry conference was told yesterday.

Most of the main players in the Irish telecommunications industry were present and active at the annual conference of the IBEC-affiliated Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF), at Dublin Castle.

One of the major issues addressed in the afternoon session was the realistic chance of Ireland delivering a proper broadband network within the next five-to-six years. BT Ireland chief executive Chris Clark suggested that it was “highly unlikely” without the local loop unbundling issue being sorted out first.

Meanwhile, Eircom’s new chief executive, Paul Donovan said it was a matter of “when rather than if”, but seemed to doubt the chances of a short-term fix.

“It’s a realistic long-term aspiration and an economic imperative. Ireland is a developed country, so everyone should have access to higher speeds than they do currently, in five years time. The challenge for the industry, however, is how to achieve it on a cost effective basis,” he said.

Charles Butterworth, Vodafone Ireland’s chief executive, responded to that by saying: “I would exchange the word reality for necessity. It is a necessity for the future economic well-being of this country that we have a developed next generation broadband network. The hard part is finding how to make it happen. We must ensure that the model is sustainable and we’re not just ploughing money into networks that end up showing no returns.”

On the subject of who, exactly, should pay for the infrastructure roll-out, O2 chief executive Danuta Gray said a mix of private investment and public sector support was called for.

Most leading delegates agreed that closer collaboration among the industry players in improving the communications industry, would become a reality.

Earlier in the day, Vodafone Ireland’s strategy director and current TIF chairman Gerry Fahy said that this would be vital.

“Closer collaboration between industry, policy makers and regulators will be required so as to develop and apply new thinking to commercial and regulatory models for our industry. The telecoms industry needs to find an innovative path through the current economic downturn to be able to deliver the next generation infrastructure and services that will underpin Ireland’s smart economy,” he said.


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