Ireland has the right ingredients to meet the connectivity challenge
Corkman Barry O’Sullivan of Cisco recently stated that the three ingredients for a Silicon Valley in Ireland are ‘Capital, Culture, and Connectivity’. When it comes to considering Ireland as a location for new cloud business, connectivity is evidently not a problem in terms of availability.
The leading public cloud providers choose to base their European services here; ergo they have the essential connectivity they require: high capacity and low latency, at least into the data centre hub that is Dublin City. And on a national basis, eircom already offers our business customers 10 Gigabit uncontended point-to-point services, which have typically previously been limited to islands of city- and town-based fibre.
On the road to faster broadband services
Getting faster broadband services on a pervasive nationwide basis is an important topic of public interest, with the role of the incumbent and the level of eircom investment frequently at the heart of the debate. eircom is investing €400 million, with 300,000 premises able to avail of our Next Generation Access rollout of ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ when it launches this Spring. More than 700,000 homes and businesses will be passed by the end of the year. Consumer services that will use this infrastructure are on the way, and there will be new offerings for eircom Business customers too. eircom’s extensive National Fibre Network provides a powerful and scalable platform for these services. There are more than 6,000 route km of fibre in the eircom network which are lit and the network has been designed to be future-proofed to cope with the continued growth in data volumes.
LTE poised to boost mobile data service
For areas where fibre is not economically viable due to geography and density of demand, there is good news too with the completion of the spectrum auction last year. eircom spent over €140 million, securing capacity to deliver enhanced 3G coverage and LTE (Long Term Evolution), the fourth generation of mobile technology. The spectrum will improve mobile data service coverage as well as capacity and latency, with the LTE800 spectrum, for example, providing a theoretical max speed of up to 75Mbit/s. It’s ‘up to’ because as radio spectrum is a shared medium, the speed that you get depends not only on where you are, but also on the number of other service subscribers around you: with subscribers contending for the same capacity, congestion is possible.
Beyond the radio, the fixed fibre network is the heart of future mobile services, providing the backhaul required from the radio mast to the internet or Virtual Private Networks. Points of potential congestion in the fixed, terrestrial network – fibre and copper based services like DSL and eircom Next Generation Access based broadband – can be foreseen and addressed by a solid network design, supporting ‘uncongested’ customer services.
Network of the future is evolvable, sustainable and submissive
One such future fibre-based design was recently presented in eircom HQ by Prof. David Payne of the CTVR. CTVR is a TCD-based telecommunications research centre, and although their website statement of intent promotes “Disruption: technological disruption perturbs the inertia of governments, regulators and market incumbents”, eircom is both a market incumbent and a CTVR industry partner.
David described the vision for a network that is:
Evolvable: remains economically viable as requirements and business models change Sustainable: uses network resources - and power - efficiently Submissive: adapts to the needs of the customer, and not the other way around
The context for the design was the over 10 million fold increase in capacity presented by fibre compared to copper, the increasing speeds expected by consumers, and the narrowing gap between the cost of providing this capacity compared to the price that the consumer is willing to pay.
Technology advantages versus economic realities
David focussed on the technology advantages, while acknowledging the commercial investment challenges compared to the continued use of the existing infrastructure – for instance in designs like eircom’s that use copper to the home or premises as the last tail beyond fibre that extends to the curb. He acknowledged that transition to the design the CTVR favours - a Passive Optical Network (PON) technology that extends fibre to the premises – is a whole separate topic. However PON reduces the number of layers in the typical core network architecture, driving efficiency as each layer transition requires electronic conversions that are costly and complex. David estimated the reduction in exchanges required from over a thousand to just 18 for Ireland, and very impressive power reduction based on the reduction in electronics.
David is a highly experienced former design consultant and it was good to see practical real world economics as well as a Utopian and innovative view of technology informing the CVTR's thinking. Network sharing is a foundation principle of CTVR’s preferred PON-based design. They are working on an optical-based architecture in the recently announced EU-funded DISCUS project and a strand of this work is in the regulation policy space.
David noted that the European approach to market regulation to date has been to encourage network infrastructure construction to underpin competition, rather than to encourage proposition diversity based upon shared – evolvable, sustainable, submissive - network infrastructure. It was an interesting conclusion to an informative and thought-provoking presentation.