Ultra-high speed broadband could be on its way to rural Wexford at last. A three month technical trial testing a new service to rural areas will be initiated in Taghmon within months. Formal agreement on the trial was signed between Wexford Local Development and Chinese broadband firm Wuhan Vstar on the 2nd of February. Local development companies in twelve other areas of the country will also facilitate pilot trials in their local communities which will offer ‘Next Generation Access’ (NGA) standard broadband coverage. If the trials prove successful the local development companies and their Chinese partners propose to roll out a national network as soon as possible over the next couple of years, a service which will be well over the national NGA target speeds of 30 mega-bytes per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload.
Wexford Local Development and the other local development companies decided to launch this innovative project because they are concerned about possible delays in the delivery of the government’s National Broadband Plan, while they welcome and support its aspiration to provide high-speed broadband to all of rural Ireland by 2020. Moreover as a community-based development organisation Wexford Local Development has become increasingly concerned at the significant consequences of the digital divide highlighted in numerous recent reports faced by rural Ireland’s businesses and residents. The proactive work of Wexford Local Development and other local development companies to address this digital divide as soon as possible led to the contact with Wuhan Vstar and following discussions to the cooperation agreement. Brian Kehoe, Chief Executive of Wexford Local Development summed up the feeling that “communities in rural Wexford cannot afford in either economic or social terms to wait on others, no matter how well-intentioned, to address the broadband gap. This digital divide is costing rural Wexford access to jobs, training and social opportunities and must be addressed urgently.”
The technology to be pioneered in the three month trial is wireless-based but recent innovations in technology abroad mean it can potentially offer much higher average speeds than has been available to most rural customers and even far in excess of the government’s own targets under the National Broadband Plan. The Vstar system is widely used to deliver high speed broadband to extremely rural areas of China and has recently been exported to Australia. Ireland will be the first country in Europe to see its introduction. While the technology is pioneering in Europe it is still well-understood internationally and will be fully regulated to international best practice. Brian Kehoe added “The potential of these broadband trials is enormous- not just for Taghmon or for Co. Wexford in general- but for rural Ireland as a whole.”
A delegation from Wuhan Vstar spent two weeks examining broadband in rural Ireland, including taking part in a very productive visit to Taghmon where they met with Representatives of Wexford Local Development and Taghmon Action Group as well as members of the local business community. They are confident that the pilots will prove that their system, which has been successful in rural areas internationally, can deliver ultra high speed broadband to remote areas of rural Ireland.
The Irish and Chinese broadband partners have cleared their basic proposals with the Communication Regulator- ComReg and have met with government ministers to brief them on their plans. Research is advanced on local preparations in which the local development companies will work with local businesses and communities in each trial area to get the best system possible. Work is expected to commence on the project in the coming months with the three month trials to go live by the middle of the year.