State’s broadband scheme to be delayed

State’s broadband scheme to be delayed by at least a year, Minister signals.

Naughten indicates work on project will not begin until at least beginning of 2019

However, Comreg figures, released this week, show there are only 12,076 households and businesses in the State actually benefiting from a pure fibre connection, known in the trade as a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), which equates to about .006 per cent of households.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has signalled a further delay to the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which was first promised in 2012, by at least a year.
The plan to equip 542,000 rural homes and businesses with high-speed broadband has been beset with problems and delays due to the complexity of the procurement process and the failure of the department to finalise the number of premises to be covered earlier.

In the Dáil last week, Mr Naughten indicated he did not expect the first homes to be connected to the State-subsidised scheme until after Eir, the State’s largest telco, had finished a separate project to connect 300,000 rural homes on a commercial basis, which will take until the end of 2018.

The 300,000 homes had originally been earmarked for the Government’s scheme but were controversially removed at the last minute following an agreement between the department and Eir earlier this year.

The department last night denied the timeline for delivery of its broadband initiative had shifted again, insisting the procurement process would continue in parallel with the rollout of infrastructure by commercial operators.

However, it failed to contradict Mr Naughten’s statement in the Dáil that the 542,000 rural customers would be connected only after Eir had completed its contract with the department.
This pushes delivery of the Government’s plan out by another year to 2019 at a time when rural communities are already struggling to keep pace economically with their urban counterparts.
The scheme is expected to take between three and five years to complete and involve a State subsidy of up to €600 million.

While most premises targeted under the scheme will be equipped with high-speed broadband within the first two years of the contract, many may now have to wait until 2023 or 2024 to see any progress.

Public confidence
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley described the latest delay as a scandal that would further erode the public’s confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver the plan.
“Minister Naughten had the audacity to come into the Dáil to answer questions on the NBP last week and announce that nothing will happen with these households until Eir finishes a project connecting 300,000 other households which they are doing on a commercial basis,” he said.
“For the next 77 weeks, it will be the households that Eir are connecting on a commercial basis that will be prioritised, and not the households that have no hope of ever being connected via a normal commercial connection.

“What’s worse is Minister Naughten’s attempt at jumping on the coat-tails of Eir’s work by claiming it as a phase under the NBP, and referring to the State’s work in connecting the remaining 542,000 households as the next phase.”

Mr Dooley said Mr Naughten’s actions were akin to a minister for transport claiming to provide public transport by letting car dealers sell cars to the public.
“The NBP is beyond a joke now. Every few months, we see the Minister announcing changes to the plan which fundamentally diminishes its impact,” he said.

Read the full story on the Irish Times

fibre reality

Telcos truth about fibre broadband – but not the whole truth

Comreg data shows only 12,076 households benefiting from pure fibre connections

You would be forgiven for thinking half the Irish countryside is wired up with fibre broadband, the gold standard of the industry, given the amount of company announcements we’re subjected to.

However, Comreg figures, released this week, show there are only 12,076 households and businesses in the State actually benefiting from a pure fibre connection, known in the trade as a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), which equates to about .006 per cent of households.

The disparity stems from the fact that telcos tend to conflate “premises passed” by the new fibre technology with those actually connected to it, blurring the lines between FFTPs and fibre-enhanced connections.

In most areas the new technology only runs to the street cabinet, with the last hop – as they call it in the industry – to the house or premises completed via the old copper connection, which can slow broadband speeds considerably, depending on how degraded the original copper is.

All of which is not to say households aren’t benefiting from fibre, just not as much as telcos would have us believe.

Comreg’s report does, however, show that broadband speeds, despite the public outcry, have got significantly faster.

It found that 67 per cent of all fixed-line connections enjoyed speeds equal to or greater than 30 megabits per second, up from 58 per cent in the first quarter of 2016. Telcos Eir, Siro and Enet, which are vying for the Government’s National Broadband Plan, have been busy investing in their networks ahead of the bidding process later this year. The Government’s scheme is expected to deploy predominantly fibre technology to insure against the early obsolescence, a feature of previous State-backed plans.

However, a potential stumbling block may be the final 10 per cent of homes covered by the scheme, which are located in the hardest-to-reach areas because of a legacy of one-off housing and dodgy planning.

Five Winning Bidders in ComReg’s 3.6 GHz Band Spectrum Award

ComReg Media Release

Five Winning Bidders in ComReg’s 3.6 GHz Band Spectrum Award

ComReg has today published the results of its 3.6 GHz spectrum award. The 3.6 GHz band has been identified by the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) as a primary band suitable for the introduction of 5G in Europe.

The Award, which was conducted by auction, resulted in the successful assignment of all 350 MHz of spectrum. The spectrum was offered in 594 lots spread over nine regions (four rural and five urban), assigned on a contiguous basis.

The Auction resulted in five Winning Bidders:

  • Imagine Communications Ireland Ltd, currently the largest Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) obtained spectrum rights of use for 60 MHz in each of the rural regions;
  • Airspan Spectrum Holdings Ltd, a new entrant and the UK arm of a US global provider of 4G broadband wireless systems and solutions. Airspan’s products serve operators and markets such as smart utilities, transportation and public safety in both licensed and licence exempt frequency bands. Airspan obtained 25 MHz in the rural regions and 60 MHz in the cities;
  • Vodafone Ireland Ltd, a mobile network operator with circa 2.3 million mobile subscribers (38.5% market share) and circa 268,00 fixed broadband subscribers (19.7% market share) obtained 85 MHz in rural regions and 105 MHz in the cities;
  • Three Ireland Hutchison Ltd, a mobile network operator with circa 2.08 million mobile subscribers (35% market share) obtained 100 MHz nationally; and
  • Meteor Mobile Communications Ltd, a mobile network operator and a wholly owned subsidiary of Eircom Group which has circa 1.08 million mobile subscribers (18 % market share). Eircom Group has circa 444,000 fixed broadband subscribers (32.6% market share). Meteor obtained 80 MHz in the rural regions and 85 MHz in the cities.

The 3.6 GHz band is currently used for the provision of fixed wireless access services to about twenty five thousand customers, predominantly in rural areas. Imagine Communications Ireland Limited, by far the largest provider of fixed wireless access services in the 3.6 GHz band, holding 80% of the existing licences in the band, has secured sufficient spectrum so as to be in a position to maintain and enhance services.

All spectrum rights of use licences will run for 15 years, expiring on 31 July 2032. Winning bidders will pay in excess of €78m, comprising €60.5m in upfront fees and circa €17.7m in spectrum usage fees to be paid over the 15 year duration of the licences. Full details are set out at Annex 1.

Given the quantum of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band, the EC preferred Time Division Duplex (TDD) channelling arrangement and developments at European level generally, the 3.6 GHz Band could be suitable for addressing mobile capacity constraints, introducing new 5G services, and being a core band for providing and improving fixed wireless broadband services particularly in rural areas.

The release of the 3.6 GHz band has increased the amount of harmonised spectrum for mobile, nomadic and fixed wireless broadband services by 86% and places ComReg at the vanguard of Europe, having awarded 350 MHz of the band in full accordance with the harmonisation Decision, fully ready for any future 5G deployment.

Commenting on the award, ComReg Chairperson Gerry Fahy noted that “the result of the 3.6 GHz award represents a very good outcome for consumers, service providers and ComReg. All 350 MHz of available spectrum, across the entire country, has been assigned at an important time as demand for wireless communications services continues to grow. Continuity for existing services has been underpinned and the possibility of new services has been significantly enhanced. In particular the characteristics of this band, coupled with its 5G potential, should ensure Ireland is well positioned to benefit from new technology and service enhancements in the years to come. The outcome also produced new market entry with the potential for increased investment and innovation thereby enhancing competition and customer outcomes.”

For further information, please see ComReg’s Information Notice 17/38 published alongside this Media Release.

Vodafone admits and apologises for overcharging Irish customers

Vodafone has admitted that the company has overcharged a number of customers in Ireland.

“We are aware of an issue with duplicate credit and debit card payments for some customers caused by a processing error. Customers will be fully refunded over the next few days,” Vodafone said in a statement.

“All impacted customers will also receive an SMS with confirmation of their refund. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The company has had issues with overcharging in the past: in 2015, the telecom giant was fined €10,000 at Dublin District Court for charging customers too much.

In October of last year, UK regulator Ofcom fined Vodafone a record £4.6m (€5.5m) “for serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules”.

Vodafone said that under 4pc of its Irish bill pay customers have been overcharged.

The company has around 2.3 million Irish customers across its mobile, broadband and TV offerings.

However, Vodafone said it could not specifically comment on the number of counts that had been affected for “commercial reasons”. The company said the overcharging was identified over one monthly billing period and that the money would be repaid in the coming days.

Irish Independent

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Independent

Don’t tell farmers to apply online when they have no broadband coverage

Don’t tell farmers to apply online when they have no broadband coverage – Martin Kenny TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Martin Kenny TD, speaking after the Government announced that Eir would expand broadband service to the easy to reach properties, said that the Department of Agriculture would want to take note, before asking farmers from his constituency to make Basic Payment Scheme applications online.

Deputy Kenny said, “Any expansion of broadband services in Ireland has to be welcome, but allowing cherry-picking by providers, so that they can ignore areas which are not commercially profitable, means that large sections of the West are left without proper broadband coverage.

“The announcement of the roll-out of broadband has been nearly a monthly occurrence for the past few years, but it is still not happening for many rural areas. This is another example of Government lack of understanding of the reality of people’s lives. One Department is allowing commercial interests to dictate who gets broadband while another Department is demanding online applications.

“More and more functions are moving online. I hope the Department of Agriculture is taking note of the situation in this part of the world before asking farmers to apply online for their Basic Payment Scheme.

“Rural areas of Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, and Donegal have the lowest level of broadband in the country and are quickly being left behind. The fear is that this is a long term issue as the Government has shown no political will, despite lots of lip service, to redress the imbalance between the urban and rural.”

 Catch the full article here on the Leitrim Observer

Seven things we learned at Mobile World Congress 2017

Barcelona hosted the biggest mobile tech show on the planet this week.

Tech editor Adrian Weckler has been immersed in the sector’s latest phones, mobile gadgets and new technology. Here he reveals why 5G really will be the next big thing (as Samsung and VR struggle); why, as phone cameras take giant leaps, Nokia’s classic €50 phone was a surprise hit; and while Irish delegates are up, the number of women most definitely isn’t

1. A lot more is going to depend on 5G than we think.

One of the big themes at Mobile World Congress was 5G. But unlike 3G or 4G, 5G is about way more than mobile phone speeds or internet access from handsets.

It’s starting to become clear that almost everything we do in a few years may depend on solid, unbroken access to a mobile network.

Self-driving cars, for instance, will probably only work if they have guaranteed, unfettered connections to a wider network – and 4G doesn’t cut it.

Right now, you can watch a video in your car or get sat nav access.

But for precision timing, the latency has to be down to a few milliseconds, something that isn’t possible over current networks. At Mobile World Congress, several of the car companies were there, making this point, with the two biggest display areas in the whole event taken up by Ericsson and Huawei, which are vying to be the main 5G network providers around the world.

2. The hype around virtual reality has abated.

The last two years were dominated by the promise of a new era in virtual reality. But in 2017, there is a lot less being said about it at the main tech shows.

“There just aren’t that many people buying them,” one senior Google executive told me at Mobile World Conference.

As a result, generic mobile and tech companies aren’t showcasing virtual reality modules as future add-ons to whatever service they sell in the same way they might have last year.

There is still massive investment going into the genre, mainly because of bets placed by Facebook (which owns Oculus), Sony, HTC and – to a lesser extent – Google. But virtual reality is starting to be talked about more in niche terms than ubiquitous, mass-market parlance.

3. Phone cameras are taking the next step up.

Given the laws of physics, can cameras in phones get any better? Actually, yes. We saw some significant upgrades at Mobile World Congress to the lenses sitting in your pocket. Sony and Huawei, in particular, showcased beefed-up cameraphone tech that will result in significantly better photos and videos turning up on our Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat feeds.

Sony’s new Xperia XZ Premium, for example, has an unprecedented ability to shoot very slow motion video in high definition.

Huawei, meanwhile, has upped its Leica lenses to give pretty jaw-dropping portrait photo ability.

They weren’t the only phone companies improving on their camera tech. Oppo may not be a widely known phone outfit in Ireland, but it’s now one of the biggest handset brands in China.

It also debuted a dual-lens cameraphone at Mobile World Congress.

Undoubtedly, Apple and Samsung will respond with the S8, due out shortly, and the iPhone 8, expected in September.

But the bottom line is that the gap between cameraphones and €1,000-plus standalone cameras will continue to narrow this year.

To be clear, the two will never be equal: camera sensors and standalone lenses will always have a significant edge over necessarily small phone sensors and flat micro-lenses. But the scale of the superiority that once existed continues to decline.

4. People are still looking for quirky things.

The hit of Mobile World Congress came from an unlikely source: Nokia. Its revived  classic 3310 model caught the imagination of the public, taking experts and analysts by surprise.

For €50, the dinky little phone comes with a two-inch colour screen, basic camera and an even more basic web browser. Its battery will last a month on standby and it has a new version of ‘Snake’, said to be the most-played video game of all time.

But is it a gimmick or a product with real legs? Are people really about to give up their powerful smartphones for a gadget that would have been fairly basic even ten years ago?

Analysts say that it will appeal to a mixture of older people, festival-goers, travellers and those who want to reduce their addiction to social media all throughout the day.

There are even suggestions that people sensitive to their data privacy might use the pared-down phone when entering the US, to limit border guards’ exploration of their social information when asked for such data at customs.

5. Samsung continues to have a terrible time of it.

Can things get much worse for Samsung? In the middle of Mobile World Congress, news came through that its chief executive is to be investigated for corruption.

Not that things were going well for the company at the event before that bombshell dropped. Its keynote presentation, which is usually an anchor event at Mobile World Congress, was a decidedly awkward affair with more hand-wringing from the stage over its Note 7 overheating phone fiasco. It didn’t even have any significant product to launch, with no Galaxy S8 model ready yet.

That left it with nothing more than an Android tablet and two touchscreen Windows laptops as its main pitch to the thousands gathered and watching. In previous years, Samsung has utterly dominated Mobile World Congress, just as it has dominated the mobile industry. So far, 2017 is proving to be as challenging as the end of 2016.

6. The Irish presence is getting bigger and bigger.

A couple of years ago, Irish influence at Mobile World Congress was largely restricted to a state-subsidised stand with 14 plucky little companies selected to present on the big stage. Now, some Irish companies are starting to come into their own as legitimate, large-scale competition to big international players. Dublin-based telecoms software firm Openet had arguably the biggest stand of any of the Irish firms on hand, a very large corner edifice with public and private spaces within. Asavie, a Dublin-based ‘internet of things’ firm, also has a sizeable stand at the event and announced a pretty significant deal.

In all, there were well over 30 Irish companies officially on display, with dozens (perhaps hundreds) more on location for business meetings and pitches.

7. The telecoms industry is still run by middle-aged men in suits.

Think web-tech companies have a gender balance problem? A walk around Mobile World Congress shows you an industry that makes the digital tech business look like a model of progressive gender-balance.

Hardly any keynote speeches were by women and, from what I saw walking around the place for two days, very few of the senior executives on the floor were women.

In relative terms, Ireland actually does reasonably well on this score. Ericsson’s most senior Irish executive at the event was Zelia Madigan, country manager for the company which has over 1,000 people working between Athlone and Dublin. At home, Irish telcos have pretty visible female senior executives too, including Vodafone’s Irish boss Anne O’Leary and Eir’s head of networks, Carolann Lennon.

However, not a single one of the 14 up-and-coming companies showcased at by Enterprise Ireland on the state agency’s subsidised stand at Mobile World Congress was led by a woman.

This probably wasn’t for want of looking on EI’s part. But telecoms still appears to be a very, very male-dominated business.

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Independent

Virgin Media customers told their bills will increase from January

Customers of Virgin Media have been told that their bills will increase from January.

The new changes will see the average customer paying an extra €1.50 per month, the company claims. But one irate customer told Independent.ie that his bill will increase by €4 – an extra €48 per year. Customers were informed of the changes via email in the last two weeks.

In the correspondence top one customer, seen by Independent.ie, the broadband and TV company wrote: “We’re making some changes in January and we wanted to let you know that the amount you pay for your Virgin Media package will go up.

“This change will take effect from your first bill after January 1st 2017. Nobody likes a price rise, and we understand this. We’re always looking at how we can bring you an even better TV package and add value to your Virgin Media experience wherever possible.”

A spokesperson for the company said the price changes vary depending on the services that customers use, and they average 3.35% across the customer base.

The company told customers that they have until December 23 to cancel their package and can do so by calling 1908 and selecting option 1.

On customer said: “This is outrageous. I have lost count of the number of price increases we have experienced in the last number of years.”

In a statement to Independent.ie, a spokesperson for Virgin Media said: “Nobody likes price changes and we only ever increase prices when we need to. We do everything we can to keep prices competitive while also continuing to make necessary investments in the services that our customers want.

“The price change is necessary due to increased operating costs and, most notably, a near trebling of rates payable across our network.

Catch the full article here in the Irish Independent
– Copyright Online Editors | Newsdesk

National broadband plan will fail those in our country areas

High-speed internet access is more important than ever but getting fibre to all homes is not the way forward in rural Ireland.

The National Broadband Plan, the Government’s initiative to provide high-speed fibre internet connections to every home in the country, has been hit with setbacks, budget cuts and delays almost since its inception.

The latest Switcher.ie survey brought in to focus the huge variance of broadband speeds across Ireland and the real problems facing rural businesses and communities without high-speed internet access.

The National Broadband Plan, the Government’s initiative to provide high-speed fibre internet connections to every home in the country, has been hit with setbacks, budget cuts and delays almost since its inception. This problem seems destined to continue with no end in sight. What was supposed to be delivered in 2015 is now not even planned to start until mid-2018 and is unlikely to fully materialise until 2023 at the earliest. This will leave thousands of rural households and businesses with a prohibitively slow internet connection.

While it’s a difficult question to confront, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask it: is the National Broadband Plan in its present form actually feasible? Considering our geography and existing infrastructure, is it financially and logistically possible to deliver high-speed fibre-optic internet to every home in Ireland?

While more and more of us are gravitating towards major towns and cities, Ireland is still mostly rural. Laying fibre-optic cable isn’t easy, or cheap. Roads must be closed and footpaths dug up. These difficulties are multiplied significantly in the country, where kilometres of hi-tech cable need to be passed through private farmland, secondary roads and down boreens to reach solitary houses and isolated townlands.

There are still too many unanswered questions. If the Government puts down fibre- optic cable along a main road, will it be up to the household or the business to pay to have it connected the extra distance to their front door? This would cost thousands. Will this cost be subsidised or will the consumer have to pony up the money upfront? And how much of a monthly charge consumers will have to pay? We simply do not know.

What we do know is that similar commercial and government initiatives to get fibre to the home in other countries have proved too costly and expensive and are being replaced with more advanced, future-proofed wireless technologies.

The Australian government launched its own broadband initiative a number of years ago, and these very problems were encountered; it was not cost-effective or practical to deliver fibre-optic cable to remote areas. They turned to fixed wireless as a solution.

And it’s not only cost-conscious governments reassessing their plans: Google, arguably the world’s foremost tech company, with virtually unlimited funds, has made drastic revisions to its own broadband project in the United States, which was initially focused on delivering ultra-high-speed fibre-optic connections.

When consumers proved unwilling to pay the price of connecting their homes to a fibre-optic network and paying for a service they didn’t need, Google realised the impracticality and commercial reality and announced that a switch from fibre-to-the-home to fixed wireless.

Fixed wireless bypasses the difficulties of laying down kilometres of cable by transmitting a signal through the air which is then picked up by a receiver.

The National Broadband Plan is promising internet speeds of up to one gigabit per second (or a thousand megabits). Does the average household need that kind of speed? As the Switcher.ie survey shows, the average and perfectly sufficient broadband speed in Dublin is 45 megabits. Today, advanced fixed wireless can provide a connection speed of up to 200 megabits and is more than capable of servicing the average household and business. Indeed, this is way beyond what the average household uses, and even as internet consumption increases in the years ahead (and wireless speeds along with it), we’re still a very long way from requiring a full gigabit.

But even fixed wireless internet is under threat. An upcoming auction of the wireless “spectrum” – the available bandwidth that internet companies can use to provide advanced wireless services – could see mobile operators and larger telecoms companies with a vested interest in being subsidised to rollout fibre, snap up large sections of it, squeezing out wireless suppliers essential to the provision of rural broadband.

If this happens, compounded by further delays to the National Broadband Plan, accessing high-speed internet could become even more difficult for thousands of homes and businesses, and those who rely on fixed wireless internet already may actually lose their existing connections. As we stand, thousands of homes and businesses dependent on existing fixed wireless connections are about to be put into limbo by the communications minister.

Over the past two years, we have advised the Government, the Communications Regulator and Minister for Communications Denis Naughten of the global shift to fixed wireless as a solution to deliver high-speed broadband to rural areas urging them, in the national interest, to safeguard part of the spectrum for fixed wireless, thereby assuring internet access for thousands of people into the future. To date, this has been ignored.

There are undeniable problems with Ireland’s internet infrastructure and these need to be addressed as a matter of urgency; but that doesn’t mean that the National Broadband Plan is the all-curing panacea. Indeed, assuming the most optimistic rollout of fibre, our own estimates suggest that there will still be roughly 200,000 homes and businesses that will need a fixed-wireless solution. If the spectrum for fixed wireless is no longer available, in addition to hindering the provision of real, workable solutions in a much shorter time frame, these homes and businesses could be the collateral damage of the Government’s blinkered view of broadband provision.

Tech multinationals and other national governments are reconsidering fibre fundamentalism, and we should be doing the same. A refusal to rationally examine the National Broadband Plan and explore more economic alternatives will see us locked into a costly project for decades to come, especially if wireless providers are forced out of the market. Creating a new financial black hole, like Irish Water, is not desirable for either the public or the Government. By 2023, it’ll be too late to say we got it wrong.

Catch the full article here in the Irish Independent
– Copyright Brian O’Donohoe

Slower broadband and lack of job opportunities frustrate rural dwellers.

Aspects of life that frustrate rural dwellers are slower broadband (63%) and a lack of job opportunities (45%), according to research by Macra na Feirme for its ‘Know Your Neighbour’ campaign.

The campaign, which is in partnership with Calor, aims to bring everyone together at community events, to get to know these neighbours and establish a strong support network, Macra President Sean Finan has said.

A lack of amenities (59%) and a lack of local infrastructure (48%) are also among the grievances of rural dwellers. Read more

Kerry Farmer Rural Broadband

The absence of Rural Broadband is killing jobs.

For vast areas of rural Ireland, the absence of good broadband is proving to be nothing short of disastrous.

The absence of broadband is killing jobs.

It is a resource that has become as essential in Ireland as electricity and water, and the absence of good broadband is killing jobs in areas that desperately need recovery, paralysing schools and leaving farmers on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Catch the full article here on the Irish Independent – http://bit.ly/24eD1j5 

Article by Kim Bielenberg

Photography off Kerry dairy farmer Patrick Rohan with his son Liam on his farm outside Annascaul. Photo: Don MacMonagle.