Ireland faces a major challenge with superfast rural broadband

November 19, 2012   |   Tim Johnson

One of the European Union’s most ambitious targets is to make sure that all its citizens can get access to superfast broadband at home, if they choose, by 2020.  A new study by broadband specialists Point Topic shows Ireland is now nearly 36% towards achieving that aim. This means that 36% of Irish homes can subscribe to superfast broadband services delivering at least 30Mbps (megabits per second) of bandwidth.

As one of Europe’s most rural countries, Ireland does a good job in providing basic broadband to over 97% of the population, including 94% of those in rural areas.  But it faces a much bigger challenge with the superfast target where current rural coverage is virtually zero.

The report which identifies the challenge for Ireland has been produced for DG Connect, the department of the European Commission which is responsible for its “Digital Agenda” strategy.  The purpose of the Digital Agenda is to harness the internet and other digital technologies to drive sustainable economic growth.  Neelie Kroes, the Commission vice-president responsible, wants to see €7 billion earmarked for EU investments in broadband to help reach Digital Agenda targets, which in turn is meant to draw in private funds of many times that amount.

“This study gives us the best view so far of where action is needed on broadband coverage,” says Neelie Kroes.  “It will help to guide decisions on where EU and private money can be invested to provide the best long-term return for taxpayers and investors such as pension funds.”

Called Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011, the new study shows that 97% of the homes in Ireland can now get basic broadband, meaning services offering at least 144kbps (kilobits per second), if they want to subscribe.  Almost 36% can already get superfast broadband, also known as NGA, for Next Generation Access.  Looking at the 29 study countries as a whole (all 27 members of the EU, plus Norway and Iceland), 96% can already get basic broadband and over 50% – half way to the “digital heaven” target for 2020 – can get superfast.

Basic broadband is fairly widespread now, only three EU countries have less than 90% coverage.  But there are huge variations in superfast availability both internationally and within countries.  As far as Ireland is concerned, the map shows that the contrast is marked.  Dublin already has 89% superfast coverage but the rest of the country is well behind, with no region having more than 25%.

Superfast broadband coverage map in Ireland (end 2011)

Figure 1 Next generation access broadband coverage map – Ireland (end-2011)

The study also shows how competing technologies are sharing out the superfast broadband market, as illustrated on the chart.  At present, Ireland relies almost entirely on its extensive cable TV network, which offers superfast broadband using Docsis 3 technology to 34% of Irish homes.  This matches the situation across Europe as a whole where Docsis 3 is also the leading superfast technology, reaching 37% of homes.  But so far Ireland has only limited coverage from the other superfast technologies.  FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises, meaning to apartment blocks or individual homes) is available to just 2% of Ireland, against an average of 12% for Europe as a whole.  VDSL, which provides superfast broadband across the telephone network, is at an early stage of rollout with less than 1% coverage at end-2011 compared with a European average of 21%.

“When we add all these technologies together we have to take account of the overlap,” explains Tim Johnson, who led the project as Point Topic’s Chief Analyst.  “This is how we get to superfast coverage of 36% in Ireland.”  The problem is that the superfast operators compete to serve the richer and more densely populated areas in each country, leaving others underserved.  “Hopefully this project will give policy-makers some of the information they need to start addressing that problem,” says Johnson.

Broadband coverage in Ireland - comparison with the European Union

Figure 2 Comparison of broadband coverage in Ireland with the European Union

Key to technologies

DSL – provides broadband speeds up to 24 megabits per second over the telephone network
VDSL (Very-fast DSL) – provides superfast speeds (30Mbps or more) over the telephone network
FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) – delivers the fastest possible broadband over optical fibre to apartment blocks or all the way to individual homes
WiMAX – the up-to-date standard for broadband over wireless links to fixed aerials
Standard cable – provides broadband over cable TV networks using older standards
Docsis 3 cable – the up-to-date standard for providing superfast broadband over cable TV networks
HSPA – the up-to-date standard for mobile broadband over 3G networks
LTE – the new standard for fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband
Satellite – two-way broadband delivered over the newest satellites using KA-Band technology
Standard combination – shows the combined coverage of all the fixed-line broadband technologies
NGA combination – shows the combined c overage of all the fixed-line superfast broadband technologies (VDSL, FTTP and Docsis 3)

About Point Topic

Point Topic is the primary websource for DSL, FTTx, cable and other broadband supplier and user statistics, databases, information and reports. Its data is in use worldwide amongst governments, commercial organisations and as general reference. A range of online services provides the most up-to-date, accurate and cost effective worldwide and UK specific broadband data sets available.

For media information please contact Dana Corson at [email protected] or Emma Johnson at [email protected] or on: +44 1636 812152.