Fears raised as Government's National Broadband Plan might not meet business needs

The Government has been warned that its prized National Broadband Plan will provide speeds too slow for business, is unlikely to be completed in time, and will be outdated within a few years.
Fears raised as Government's National Broadband Plan might not meet business needs

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation is among the critics of the €275m ‘intervention strategy’ which is meant to provide highspeed broadband to 750,000 households and businesses in locations where it has not been profitable for commercial service providers to extend their network.

In a submission on the plan, the department warned Communications Minister Alex White that the minimum download speed of 30Mbps and minimum upload speed of 6Mbps that service providers will have to guarantee if they want to bid for the contract is too low. It said companies want download speeds at least three times higher and a quadrupling of upload speeds.

“We are strongly of the view that the network built under the intervention strategy must be future proofed to effectively meet future increases in demand for significantly higher download speeds [in excess of 100Mbps] and also higher, symmetric uploads speeds,” said a department source.

“For some companies broadband requirements double in size every 18 months to two years and therefore the technical specifications will have a life span of two and a half to three years after which they will begin to become outdated.

“Therefore it is critical to future proof the network. Feedback from IDA client companies suggests a minimum download of 100Mbps and a minimum upload of 25Mbps is required. ’’

The warning was echoed by telecommunications company Corning which said the European Commission wanted at least half of EU households to have speeds of at least 100Mbps by 2020 — the target completion date for the National Broadband Plan.

“In that sense, the NBP’s consideration of a 30Mbps threshold already looks antiquated,” Corning’s submission said.

A submission from Enet said: “Although 30Mbps will be a significant step up from the speeds currently available, we believe it should be higher. Our proposed network has been dimensioned to deliver speeds far in excess of 30Mbps.”

Communications Minister Alex White
Communications Minister Alex White

Another from Eir warned: “The amount of data consumed has been growing at about 25% to 30% per annum, with industry forecasts projecting similar compound growth rates over coming years.”

Eir added that the proposed minimums were acceptable now but the project must have built-in capacity to expand. “It is imperative that the solutions roadmap should not require significant physical infrastructure changes for decades to come,” it said.

British Telecom said: “The minimum speeds are out of step with what is available in the market today and should be revised upwards.” BT also said the timescale for the project was “unrealistic” unless it was declared a Strategic Infrastructure Project and exempted from normal planning processess.

The timescale, in particular the interim target of reaching 60% of premises by 2018, was doubted by French company, Axione, which said it was “ambitious”. It said four to seven years was more realistic.

The Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland said the timescale was “highly questionable”.

The Department of Communications, which began the procurement process this week, is sticking by the minimum speeds requirements despite the concerns.

In a statement, it said: “Bidders will be required to stipulate, as part of their bids, how they propose to ensure the network will be future proofed.

“Marks will be awarded according to robustness of proposals.”

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