IF IRELAND intends to be the best small country in the world in which to do business, something will have to be done about the country’s prehistoric broadband infrastructure.
The Government is counting on the National Broadband Plan to do just that, but with confusion over the size of the project, the timing of its rollout, and even who’s in charge of the plan, you can excuse businesses for not pinning their immediate hopes on it.
They’ll believe it when they see it and in the meantime they have to make do with a wholly inadequate infrastructure of copper wiring that effectively locks them out of some of the most crucial aspects of 21st-century commerce.
One such company is Cashels Engineering based in the village of Aghamore, near Ballyhaunis in the Taoiseach’s constituency of Mayo. The company manufactures agricultural and construction equipment and has a range of state-of-the-art machinery on site from lasers to robotics.
The same cannot be said of its broadband connection.
“Our IT infrastructure lags behind due to poor quality broadband infrastructure in the Aghamore/Ballyhaunis area. Where 10mbs is now considered a basic connection speed, our download speed is a mere 0.4mbps,” says production manager Simon Cunnane.
In truth, Mr Cunnane is being kind. The National Broadband Plan has set a minimum speed of 30mbps and even that has been criticised as being too slow and likely to be outdated in a matter of years.
The Department of Communications insists this is just a minimum speed and that in reality speeds will be far higher and the network “future-proofed”.
Until the plan reaches Cashels’ doorstep, the business, which employs 28, will have to make do with its antiquated digital infrastructure, no matter how difficult that proves to be.
“The slow speed means that sending emails with attachments can literally take hours. Senior staff often take work home with them as it’s not possible to complete during normal hours. Market research is extremely difficult as internet browsing speeds are so slow.
“Where web pages, pictures, PDFs and video should load within seconds, with our connection it can take minutes or sometimes even crash, meaning a restart is necessary even though our server and PCs are only three years old and working well otherwise.”
Cloud-based technologies, even those as basic as cloud-hosted email services like Office 365, are a pipedream as is a website that would allow Cashels sell online or provide an aftersales service.
The internet provider matters little, satellite broadband is expensive and unreliable and only a modern fibre network like that planned will alleviate the bind the company finds it in.
“Until the physical infrastructure is upgraded, we will not see any improvement. We’re still working off old copper cabling, an upgrade to fibre is the only way we will see a significant improvement,” Mr Cunnane says.
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