Radio to the rescue for rural broadband users

RURAL internet users are finally in line for accessible high-speed broadband after part of the country’s under-used radio spectrum was opened up.

The Communications Regulator ComReg has released part of the spectrum as an alternative to costly and labour-intensive fibre-optic cables.

The section of the spectrum, between 71-76GHz and 81-86GHz frequency bands, was tested last year and proved to have a “very high capacity” for transmitting information.

ComReg has said the tests suggest that this radio band can provide a similar service to fibre-optic cables.

These cables have been used in urban areas but the cost of digging up tracts of land to lay the network means isolated communities have not justified the expenditure for telecommunications’ companies.

Instead, people living in the countryside have had to resort to other radio-based and satellite broadband services.

The capacity on these has not been able to match demand and many people have complained their upgraded service only offers the same speed as connections through standard phone-lines.

The new services is described as point-to-point, which means information is sent via a transmitter to aerials on the side of people’s homes.

It will not allow for additional wireless services.

ComReg chairman John Doherty said it represents the best possible use for this section of the spectrum.

“ComReg believes that opening these frequency bands for high density fixed point-to-point radio link applications will capitalise on the bands’ potential.

“Such use could potentially facilitate a swift and efficient roll-out of broadband services to areas where optical fibre cables are not available or may not be cost effective,” said Mr Doherty.

For the past decade this country has lagged behind the rest of the developed world in the roll out of broadband.

In the latter half of 2007 the situation improved and by December, Eircom said broadband penetration had reached 18.4% of the population.

ComReg made its decision to open up the new spectrum space after a consultation process involving 12 groups and individuals.

Two of the respondents criticised the plan to only licence direct transmitter-to-aerial services and said ComReg should issue fluid licences and allow various technologies to develop.

Another said the stringent technical specifications suggested by ComReg would place high costs on telecommunications companies and prohibit its development.

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