Northern Ireland’s major advantage over the Republic?

It looks like the Republic’s economic underbelly lies in the serious shortfall in its telecommunications infrastructure. According to Seán Murphy (subs needed), director of Chambers Ireland, “the 2005 IMD World Competitiveness Book, which tracks the performance of 60 countries, ranked Ireland 56th for its communications technology capabilities and 46th for its broadband subscriptions. While chambers have issues with how this survey defines broadband, the fact that internationally respected institutions can actually rate us at such a low point in the scale for what is a key metric of digital preparedness is worrying”.
He argues that:

The importance of a top-class virtual and physical infrastructure cannot be understated. PC penetration rates and high quality broadband connectivity are essential facilitators of both economic growth and social inclusion. Equally important is the need to improve the proficiency of ICT skills among citizens and SME owner-managers to drive enhanced productivity.

More pressingly, with Dublin now choaking with traffic, and low density housing spreading out towards Kildare, Meath and beyond, strategic planning of the type already completed in Northern Ireland, if the National Spatial Strategy is to have a chance of slowing the drift of population towards Dublin trend of the last ten years:

Chambers Ireland has proposed that the Government tender for the design, build out and installation of a nationwide fibre optic cabling system to every business and home in the State. This network must be able to deliver a quantum leap in bandwidth capacity and availability to enable technologies such as cheap and effective broadband television, teleconferencing and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Such a leap offers the possibility of revolutionising all forms of telecommunications and placing Ireland well ahead of our international competition. By tendering for a private operator of this entity, the State would also circumvent any possible threat from an EU veto using state aid rules.

Given our dispersed population and patterns of ribbon development, the current telecom network operators have a difficult business case to justify roll out of ubiquitous broadband availability around the country. We specifically address this issue by suggesting Fibre To The Home (FTTH) to 80 per cent of domestic and commercial premises, with the remaining 20 per cent to be covered by a wireless network addition.

As noted before on Slugger we have a head start over the Republic, having been one of the first regions in Europe to have 100% broadband coverage. Will we be able to take economic advantage? Well probably not, if the current profound lack of interest in anything other than the details of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 continues into the middle distant future.

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  • Mick

    Here’s what the OECD Economic Survey had to say about the slow uptake of broadband

    The main problem in the telecoms sector is the slow take-up of broadband. This may be caused by insufficient competition. Eircom, the telephone incumbent, dominates the market and is dragging its feet in opening up the local loop. The regulator should fast-track this process.

  • Markkus

    The situation is very poor and it will have a negative effect. Even where exchanges are enabled, the service seems to be restricted to households within a small radius of the exchange. Some of the market offerings are laughable – they’re still trying to sell time-limited services, when one of the major advantages of broadband is the concept of “always on”. And all Eircom’s residential offerings seem to be bandwith-limited. Telecommuting is already big and going to be a lot bigger, but Ireland is hugely hampered in this respect, despite its need reduce the job centralisation in Dublin. Mick – you’re spot on in your ironic conclusion, though – the NI policicians are far too busy fighting sectarian wars to count their blessings or look at trivia like this.

  • Nestor Makhno

    I would question whether we in the north can rest on our laurels over this one. Our broadband infrastructure, while ahead of the game several years ago, is now looking decidedly ropey.

    NTL’s initial infrastructure investment in the mid-1900s was certainly not state-of-the-art even then. Ten years down the line, it’s showing its age. (And with a financially weak NTL desperate to squeeze as much revenue out of their current set up, I doubt we’ll see much of an upgrade from them for quite some time.)

    The only alternative is BT’s ADSL technology which still has a way to go in terms of its maximum capacity but will never match fibre to the home. That’s a totally different tech and has almost limitless capacity.

    At a seminar at Belfast City Hall last month Helsinki’s chief planner explained that his city was beginning to roll out fibre to the home at speeds of around 20Gb (or 2,000Mb – as opposed to our current average speeds here in NI of around 2Mb to 8Mb). It puts our situation in a more realistic perspective.

    I won’t even mention Google’s plans to make San Francisco a completely wireless city with a ‘cloud’ of free wireless broadband for all its inhabitants! In Belfast I have to buy an expensive cup of coffee in Starbucks if I want that sort of luxury.

  • darth rumsfeld

    “Northern Ireland’s major advantage over the Republic?”

    more Protestants !

    I’ll get me sash

  • abucs

    Sometimes with technology it pays to not rush in and spend a lot of money on something that will be obsolete shortly. As mentioned above the future is …… well, wireless.

  • overtherebutwouldratherbedownsouththanupnorth

    Northern Ireland´s advantage over the Republic?
    Hmmm. Well Gerry Anderson is light years more interesting than Gerry Ryan or Pat Kenny.
    Other than that, well there´s, there´s, let me see, no you got me stumped there.

  • eranu

    broadband is definately years ahead in NI compared to ROI, higher speeds lower charges. it was also available years ahead. all we need now is a good economy to make use of it!
    ive just managed to get up and running with BT ireland in dublin after weeks of delays(over a month). not impressed with the serivce… had similar nightmares with IOL years ago. there are only a few ISPs here and they are all happy to charge rip off prices and limit data transfers per month. id say this is all down to market forces, the UK being a bigger market will have more competition to push the technology along faster.

  • mnob

    … but broadband in NI has been handed on a plate to BT who have no incentive to update their network. DED gave them money to get 512k to “100%” which effectively stamped out competition (especially wireless) which was just starting to roll out.

    When the dust settles the republic with its more progressive regulatory system (cf the wimax approach) will win.

  • “Will we be able to take economic advantage? Well probably not”

    Trust a blogger to obsess on the Internet.

    I attended Photonics West in late January. For the technology illiterates that includes fiber optics, the current basic technology driving landline broadband, as well as the rest of optics, lasers, detectors and all that other groovy stuff that drives this valley.

    The UK pavilion was stuck in one corner of the exhibit hall. I moseyed over there and engaged several fellas in the booths in conversation. I was interested if Northern Ireland had any representation there.

    The English (that’s how they presented themselves, not British –no Nordies, Scots or Welsh either) guys I talked to were excited about developing “cross border” photonic conferences and contacts. I asked if this was part of the GFA.

    After I explained what the GFA was I was assured that “cross border” to the English meant between Britain and Dublin. All the meetings were to be held in or around Dublin where the high tech infrastructure is concentrated.

    The bottom line is that the North has been bypassed and if you leave it up to the mainland flunkies that are currently ruling you, you’ll be left with butkus whenever the Quebecois decide to wind down Shorts.

  • mnob

    Well cross border is between the UK and Dublin. London to Belfast isn’t (yet) cross border.

  • páid

    as a techie saddo, how exactly have BTNI done 100% availability? Longline cases? Carriers?

  • Woof McDog

    Northern Irelands major advantage over the Republic!

    Dear oh dear, I have to go to Monaghan to get my salty popcorn. (that isnt a sexual metaphor)