in Uncategorized

Sweeping broadband woes under the carpet

Tom Raftery criticizes minister Noel Dempsey for criticizing Damien Mulley’s publication of a broadband map of Ireland. Eircom told the newspapers that the map was grossly misleading.

In all this congratulating and criticizing nobody is addressing the real problem here.

Ireland is becoming an extra-urban country. The population is spread ribbon-style along roads between towns. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if DSL only has a range of 5km, then somewhere along the way the coverage is going to run out. You just can’t cover the whole length of the road, except maybe by having smaller exchanges along the way.

If you install more exchanges (and Ireland does in fact have a lot of exchanges to cope with the population spread) then the exchanges are very small, and less viable to upgrade with broadband. Add to this the fact that a lot of phone users, particularly in rural areas are older and unlikely to order broadband.

As a result, it’s very hard to make broadband viable in rural areas. Even if you do roll out DSL, there will be long distances to the exchange and it will be impossible to get high line speeds.

This is the core of the problem. There’s lots of posturing, but when it comes down to it, there’s a big technical problem here. If we really want nationwide broadband we have to deal with this issue. No amound of arguing or criticizing will fix it.

Personally, I think the answer is fiber. Rather than wasting money trying to upgrade these rural exchanges to provide second-rate broadband, it would be better to run fiber out along these ribbon developments.

There would be a substantial cost to doing this, for sure. But I think it would be worth it for eircom. Fiber equipment and expertise is far more available than it was five or ten years ago. A fiber network would require far less maintenance and would be easier to repair and extend. Fiber never rusts and is not damaged by water (which is something we have far too much of in rural Ireland.) There would also be extra revenue, as a result of being able to provide broadband, TV and telephone services to more homes.

If eircom doesn’t do this, it faces a big threat: ESB, the national electricity company. Up to now, running broadband alongside power hasn’t worked out because of various safety concerns. In particular, running telephone cables in the same duct as electricity cables is a big no-no, for fairly obvious reasons. However fiber doesn’t have this safety issue, since it does not conduct electricity.

The ESB has to run cables to every house in the country in any case. It would cost it very little to install a fiber run at the same time, perhaps wrapping the fiber around the electricity cable. As a result, the ESB would be able to double or even triple its revenue from rural customers, most likely at Eircom’s expense. Eircom might even have to pay ESB for going into competition with it and fulfilling Eircom’s universal service obligation.

Write a Comment


  1. Very nicely put. Simple. But perhaps there is the issue that if eircom laid down fibre it would have to make all services available as a wholesaler as well? The funny thing is that if eircom had rolled out broadband back in 2001 it would be in a fairly strong position now, and looking a enterprise fixed wireless, mobile, broadband, voice and managed services.

  2. “Tom Raftery criticizes minister Noel Dempsey for criticizing Damien Mulley’s publication of a broadband map of Ireland. Eircom told the newspapers that the map was grossly misleading.”

    Just one thing there – as far as I know, the criticism from Noel Dempsey pre-dates the broadband coverage map’s publication. Dempsey’s spokesperson actually validated the results of the map in saying that they were not happy with the broadband situation in rural areas.

    I would like to see every exchange enabled like in NI, it would relieve a huge amount of problems. Fixed wireless providers are coming out of the woodwork this past year in rural areas, and they would certainly cover many of the remaining blackspots.

  3. I fully support this. I see the problem first hand every day with client’s frustration. To be competitive we need a Government response. We’re an island nation how can we trade internationally as well as been competitive?

    We nned a TD or group to take the lead.

  4. I think the bottom line problem is that Eircom will get away with what they can. Now that they are deregulated, they actually don’t have any compelling reasons to enable smaller towns.
    It’s a debate of cost, and a dumb one at that: They argue against another provider, yet they couldn’t be bothered to pull finger themselves. In one situation I am currently in the middle of, they actually have a binding contract with our Builders specifying that only they can provide comms to the estate. BUT, in the crunch, they come back whining that it’s €1M to upgrade to broadband on the exchange, and maybe they’ll do it next year (or the next, etc).

    To be perfectly frank, I can understand the reluctance to install broadband at that price. But then don’t go and make binding contracts eliminating everyone else that COULD do the job.

  5. Yes i think broadband should be in rural areas
    because there are people that need broadband
    for e.g. work, and they could be living in a rural area. What does not make sence is the
    fact that broadband has being around in towns
    for three or more years, so you would think
    that Eircom would have brought it out in
    rural areas.

  6. it all sounds so easy, but fiber isn’t an easy install. i work with fiber and you can’t just wrap it around a cable and into a house. plus the esb don’t install the cables into the house the builder takes care of that. they only run their cables up to the house.
    but there a new type of network coming out where you can get 100 Mb out of a plug socket. it was on show in japan in 2006 and i’m sure the ESB are looking into this. if they do get this set up ever house is all ready networked and ready to use. sweet

  7. You can wrap a fiber around a suspended cable.

    Sure, the ESB won’t be bothered bringing the fiber into the house. But if the fiber were as far as the kerb, the householder or ISP could do the rest.

    IP over power cable? What about a couple of cans and a string? Seriously though, this type of technology is going nowhere except maybe for very specialized setups.


  • Mícheál Ó Foghlú's Weblog May 1, 2007

    Irish Broadband

    The good news: my local exchange in rural Ireland has been upgraded and I have ordered broadband. The bad news: Damien Mulley » Blog Archive » Broadband in Ireland – Coverage Map The discussion: Atoin on Sweeping broadband woes under the carpet. Ho h…